Don Cook is a man on a mission to change the status quo, which is why he launched a new program to ensure those who have received community service sentences from the Jefferson County Court will follow through with that sentence by overseeing their work.
Cook came before the Jefferson County Commissioners to explain the program and to ask for their blessing to begin the program.
“I’ve been doing the CASA program in Jefferson County for a little over three and a half years now, and one of the problems that I see with juveniles, and even with some adults, is that we’re spending a lot of money on court hearings, public defenders, the county attorney, judges and clerks if a person does not complete their court-ordered community service. When that happens they have to have a show cause hearing to ask why they don’t have that community service done. So, I’ve been working on a program called Nebraska Supervised Community Service. With that program we make sure these people are completing their service hours because it helps to build the community, and it also helps to save money,” said Cook.
Some of the people who have failed to complete their community service hours have been sentenced to jail, Cook noted, which also raises cost for the county. He explained that the program is there to help both juveniles and adults to complete their service.
Because this is a new program funding for it is limited until there are results to prove the program is successful. Until that funding is available, Cook is funding the program out of pocket.
“Doing this doesn’t cost near as much as the court hearings or jail time,” Cook said. “So, instead of waiting for these grants, I’ve decided to start it. I’m going to do it for as long as I can until I can get some proof that it works, and go from there.”
This program not only supervises the work that is being done, but also helps people to fill out the paperwork the court needs once their hours have been completed, which eliminates the need for a show cause hearing. He stated that there is already a high demand for the program among those in the judicial system.
“The court’s asking us to start this as soon as possible,” said Cook. “The probation department is asking us to start this as soon as possible.”
“The sheriff is also asking you to start this as soon as possible,” Jefferson County Sheriff Nels Sorensen said at the meeting. “I have people come to us all the time asking if we have any community service to do. My problem is we don’t have enough people to have someone there to supervise them doing community service, and we can’t just turn them loose because it has to be supervised.”
The Jefferson County Commissioners emphasized their support of the program. Cook invites any nonprofit to contact him if they are in need of volunteers for service projects in the county. People can reach him at 402-587-1618. He also encourages people who have to complete community service for the county court to reach out to him to discuss some options. The Fairbury Community Foundation also recently donated office space in downtown Fairbury to help the program along.
Cook believes that this new program will benefit Jefferson County immensely by helping its communities and organizations to grow.
“There’s so much work that can be done with community service in our towns and in our county that would save a lot of money,” said Cook. “Right now, we’re working with volunteers to supervise people. It’s not cost effective to just have people sitting in jail not doing anything when they could be helping to improve the community.”