From intern to employee
UD alums give students a 'free look' into juvenile probation
12:55 p.m., June 28, 2012--The boy who was on probation for a theft charge when they first met a year ago had just enrolled in his first college course.
“His mother called us later that day and told us how he walked back to her car with tears in his eyes,” Craig Fromme remembers. “For some workers, that’s an unusual story. We get them all the time.”
True blue spirit
There’s no bravado in his voice. Just 30-plus years of life as a juvenile probation officer, working alongside his wife Susan to ensure court orders get carried out, sentence recommendations made, and troubled youth counseled in the process.
The Double Dels have been to funerals. But they’ve been to far more graduations.
There was the young man who spent his entire 17th year in mental health facilities before the Frommes took him to the county learning center. Within two months, he earned the second highest GED score in Delaware history.
And the freshman football player with a D average and petty criminal record. After probation, he never missed an honor roll and attended college on a joint athletic-academic scholarship.
The success stories go on. The Frommes call it “positive persistence” caring about their young offenders, providing them with positive, realistic alternatives, and never giving up.
Tapping his fist on the office desk to create a resounding boom boom boom, Craig Fromme gives his clients kids with criminal records, not yet old enough to vote a piece of advice: “This,” he tells them, “is an opportunity knocking.”
Standing before a packed lecture hall in 120 Smith Hall on the UD campus, it’s the same advice he offers his would-be interns.
Since 1996, Craig and Susan Fromme have given hundreds of University of Delaware students a “free look” into the world of juvenile probation.
For the 15 or so undergraduates who intern with the two each year, it’s a fast-paced transition from the academic world of books and theory to the real-world application of criminal justice in teens just a few years younger than themselves.
The students spend their first few weeks observing the Frommes, accompanying them on home visits and court hearings, slowly taking on a greater role as their knowledge and comfort levels increases.
Last spring, Susan Fromme met with a high school sophomore whose grades reflected her struggles in math.
“My intern jumped in and said, ‘I’m good. Let me help you.’ And right then and there, she began tutoring the other girl,” she recalls, adding that what began in a client meeting has since grown, with other interns taking an active role in academic mentorship.
But ask any intern and they will be the first to say that they gain far more from this experience than they give.
The Frommes show the informal aspects of the job. For instance, how do you go into a school and ask to speak to a student? Where do you go? Whom do you ask?
“Or courtroom presentation, like knowing that you’re supposed to stand up when speaking to the judge,” adds Hailey Cockerham, a 2011 graduate who now works as a family service specialist. “I learned more from them than a class or orientation could have ever taught me.”
In January, Cockerham became the 39th UD intern to be hired by the state.
“I can tell the difference between a new hire with no experience in the juvenile justice system and one of Craig and Sue’s kids,” says Lisa DiStefano, chief of community services for the Delaware Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services.
Indeed, the Frommes do everything to ensure their interns enjoy a successful career, from practicing mock interviews to introducing the young college students to judges after court hearings.
“Craig and Sue have been incredible mentors, both to their clients and to our interns,” says Aaron Fichtelberg, associate professor of criminal justice and internship program director. “Most interns are given the boring work the photocopying, the filing and faxing. Craig and Sue hide all that. Our students don’t worry about paperwork until they’re hired.”
If the internship is a job-training, resume-building opportunity for students, the Frommes see it as a way to repay their alma mater.
“We’ve put something together right here in Newark, not as CEOs or company presidents,” Craig Fromme explains. “We’re just workers. But through this, we’ve been able to give back.”
Article by Artika Rangan Casini
Photos by Evan Krape