KEARNS — A program by Knights of Columbus Bishop Hunt Council #5214 from St. Francis Xavier Parish has received recognition from the international fraternal Catholic charitable organization. The council was honored with the International Service Award for its juvenile offender service program, Second Chance, at the 2016-2017 Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention in St. Louis, Mo. For the last four years, Second Chance has matched juvenile offenders ages 11 to 18 who must work off court-mandated community service hours with opportunities to help in the community and the parish.
The program aims to provide youth who have committed crimes with a life-changing experience that will help them become better people and successfully re-integrate into the community. In short, they are given a second chance to turn their life around.
The program’s sole administrator is Grand Knight V.J. Simonelli, a former New England police officer who has also been involved in Knights of Columbus councils in New England and Florida. His son is a federal U.S. marshal here in Utah.
Four years ago, Simonelli formally presented the idea for the program to the Knights of the Bishop Hunt Council, who heartily endorsed it.
Since then, the youth have performed a variety of services, including assisting with the council’s Coats for Kids charity project, spring and fall clean-ups, janitorial services, assisting the elderly at the charity bingo fundraisers and attending church services.
An important aspect of the program is the example of charitable service performed by the Knights whom the youth work alongside. Second Chance shows the youth another side of life where the Knights serve their community and those in need, Simonelli said.
“We engage them in what we’re doing and show them there is a better way,” he said.
In Second Chance Simonelli tries to provide a comfortable environment where each participant feels welcome and valued, he said. After he initially meets with the youth and his or her parents, he keeps the nature of their offense confidential so that all are treated equally.
While Simonelli receives documentation from the courts, there are no contracts or obligations for those in his program. Yet most participants serve without complaint, and generally, the youth and their parents appreciate the opportunity, he said.
“If it wasn’t for the Knights, I don’t know where I would be today,” one 14-year-old participant said, according to the award nomination form.
In the four years Second Chance has been in existence, Simonelli estimates more than 125 juveniles have gone through the program. The Knights will accept youth into the program regardless of religious denomination. Both male and female offenders are accepted.
Council Knights say the experience has been rewarding in helping the young people and in seeing them transformed into upright members of the community, according to the award nomination form.
The council has recently expanded the program to include adults and senior citizens who need to complete service hours.
“We’re lucky to have a parish that allows us to do it, that supports us in this program,” Simonelli said.
After the program placed first in the state level competition, Utah State Deputy Andy Airriess submitted it to the Supreme Knights of Columbus for consideration for the international service award. It placed fourth out of thousands of submissions from all around the world.
This is the first time a Utah Knights of Columbus council has received the prestigious award.