Treatment court, participants celebrate new beginnings
SUNBURY - Northumberland County's four treatment courts, which have changed the lives of many of its participants through the years, celebrated two milestones Tuesday.
For the first time, graduation ceremonies were held the same day for the drug, DUI, behavioral health and veterans courts, while the DUI court reached the century mark.
The ceremonies also marked the last graduation program for chief probation officer Michael Barvitskie, who has accepted a supervisor's position with the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole in Williamsport.
Barvitskie, 36, who has been a county probation officer for 14 years, was promoted to supervisor in 2009 before becoming chief probation officer in July 2013.
The Paxinos resident, whose county salary is approximately $61,000, will begin his new duties April 21.
He thanked all the judges, commissioners and county residents he has worked with over the years and believes his valuable experiences with the adult probation department will greatly assist him in his new position.
He has been involved with the treatment courts since 2009.
Northumberland County Judge Charles H. Saylor, who oversees the treatment courts, presided at separate ceremonies and presented certificates and plaques to each of the graduates. He spoke about how successful each of the treatment courts have been and commended participants and members who have helped improved their lives.
Clayton Sheldon, 29, of Sunbury, one of three behavioral court graduates, stated, "The support team we had was great. They always steered you in the right direction. This program was simple to follow. You make an appointment and you keep it, or you go to jail or do community service. I've had a very positive experience by completing the program."
Sheldon, who is a native of upstate New York, was charged by Sunbury police with aggravated assault and related offenses for allegedly striking a police officer. He entered the treatment court in February 2013 and works as a private landscaper.
Other behavioral court graduates included Kenneth Holland and Ricky Buckles.
"I'm very thankful for having this court available to me and I've had a lot of guidance," commented Leon Phillips, the lone graduate of the veterans treatment court.
The 42-year-old Coal Township resident, who has completed three deployments in Afghanistan, said he paid off all his fines and is looking forward to the future.
He thanked Saylor and his mentors.
"This is a great thing. It recognizes that some veterans need help and it has definitely opened a lot of doors for me. God bless you for being there for me," Phillips said.
Phillips, who entered veterans court in February 2013, advised veterans to take advantage of the program.
He was charged by Coal Township police with driving under the influence of alcohol and has been a correctional officer at SCI-Frackville for 10 years. He and his wife have five children.
Jeremy Fisher, 32, of Kulpmont, a graduate of the DUI treatment court, spoke of the highs and lows he experienced in the program after battling alcohol addiction on and off for 10 years.
"Before entering the program, I thought about drinking myself to death," he said. "And even when I enrolled in treatment court, I thought it was impossible to complete. Being on house arrest was awful. But I was able to persevere and my life has changed because of this program. I couldn't be happier. I owe my sobriety and well being to this program."
He also thanked Saylor and members of the treatment court team. "You showed you cared for us and always treated us with respect," he said. "We were able to better ourselves and develop great relationships with each other in the program."
Fisher is employed at Lowe's Distribution Center near Minersville. He became a father for the first time in January.
He also is a drummer in a band called Wars Over Wails.
Anessa Renn, 39, of Dalmatia, also talked about the struggles she endured after being charged with DUI and how thankful she was for the opportunity to complete treatment court.
"I had a lot of anger, shame and denial when I entered the program," she said. "I cost my family a lot of pain, but I grew in the program and realized that I had to admit that I did wrong so I could move forward. I would not be sober today without this program."
Renn, who is a teacher, thanked her family, Saylor, members of the treatment court team and other graduates and concluded her remarks by reading a poem about yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Other DUI court graduates included Dan Hulsizer, Rodney Braczeski, Sharon Miller, Norman Miller, Blake Young, Anne O'Rourke and Chris Klinger.
The last graduation ceremony was for drug treatment court and featured comments by participant Coryn Renner.
Other graduates were Stacy Huber, Nicholas Nelling, Michael Filarski, Anthony Derck, Jesse Beck, Candace Young and Gary Vanwhy.
Drug treatment court, which was established in 2005, now has 49 graduates. Behavioral health court, which started in 2006, has 22 graduates. Veterans court founded in 2011 has 10 graduates. DUI court, which began in 2007, has 100 graduates.
Participants in each of the courts are given the necessary tools to maintain their sobriety and deal with issues that resulted in their arrests. The courts have proven successful in reducing the rate of recidivism and have a profound impact on improving the lives of graduates and their families.
In order to successfully complete the programs, participants must secure employment and maintain sobriety for at least three months prior to graduation. A participant must be a repeat offender. The DUI, veterans and behavioral health treatment courts last a year while drug court takes 18 months to complete.