Many local nonprofit organizations depend heavily on help from unpaid workers to carry out their missions. Most are volunteers who choose to become involved in what they believe are good causes. For some, however, that is not the case.
The Second Circuit Solicitor's Office, which serves Aiken, Barnwell and Bamburg counties, offers wrongdoers the opportunity to perform community service as part of the process to get an arrest or a conviction expunged from their records or a traffic ticket dismissed. Participants in the Pre-Trial Intervention, Alcohol Education and Traffic Education programs can donate their time and skills to such organizations as Golden Harvest Food Bank, Christ Central and Equine Rescue of Aiken.
They usually work 20 to 50 hours. For traffic violations, they work four hours.
“We rely heavily on our volunteer base, and the court-ordered community service aspect is a way we can get some additional help,” said Mike Gibbons, Golden Harvest's chief development officer for South Carolina. “Our feeling is that everybody wins. They get to pay off their debt to society, and we have assistance that helps us get food back out into the community.”
Golden Harvest requires individuals performing court-ordered community service to be 18 years of age. They must go through a screening and orientation process, and their charges can't be related to sex, violence, weapon possession or any form of theft.
At Golden Harvest's Aiken warehouse, “we probably end up having an average of one (court-ordered community service worker) a week,” Gibbons said. “They can do anything from routine warehouse cleaning to sorting food to just helping around the warehouse in general.”
At Christ Central, people performing community service get assigned a variety of tasks. They sweep and mop. Some help with food and clothing distributions, while others cut grass and clean vans.
“Most of the ones we get are first-time offenders,” said Christ Central Director Judy Floyd. “We never question them about what they did. We just ask them how many hours they have to complete and when they are available.”
In Floyd's opinion, most of the community service experiences at Christ Central turn out to be positive.
“I can't think of a single time that we've had a real bad problem,” she said. “We just want to be a place where we can be a good positive influence on them as we hold them accountable. We've had a quite a few people say they want to come back and continue to serve because we're so friendly, and they really feel like they are giving back. Recently, we had a young man, who is going to USC Aiken now, stop in and say, 'Hello, I miss you guys.'”
Wrongdoers who perform community service at Equine Rescue of Aiken remove horse manure from paddocks, mow hay, paint fences and cut weeds.
“One guy who came out here was a welder,” said Jim Rhodes, Equine Rescue of Aiken's president and managing director. “I had a trailer with a broken tongue on it, and he fixed it, which was something that I normally would have had to pay somebody to do. Another guy, who owned a road-building business, brought his equipment out here and worked on every one of our roads.”
Rhodes considers Equine Rescue of Aiken's involvement with lawbreakers to be part of the organization's mission.
“We started out helping horses, and then we added dogs,” he said. “But we don't just save animals; we save people, too. We've probably helped more people than we've helped animals.”
Rhodes gets involved personally with the offenders doing community service at Equine Rescue of Aiken.
“Many of them are young, from 18 to 25 or 26 years of age,” he said. “I talk to them on a very open basis. I make them tell me what they did, and I try to become a mentor-type of person for them. I don't want them to get into any more trouble. I may be prejudice or maybe I'm patting myself on the back too much, but I think 75 percent of them really take something away from it.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.