MART, Texas -- The McLennan facility recently enjoyed a concert and special addresses by celebrities and speakers brought in by Youth Direct Ministries, a non-profit that aims to help justice-involved youth as well as adults in the criminal justice system.
Musician Bill Gammill, a gifted guitar and banjo player who’s performed around the world, and nationally known rapper Freddy David, kept the event lively, delivering more than two hours of music in separate performances that captured the youths’ attention.
The young men also listened with keen interest to featured speakers Terence Hicks, an Army Ranger and paratrooper who spoke about the trauma of being raised by a violent, mentally ill father.
Don Smarto, the founder of Youth Direct Ministries, also spoke to the more than two dozen gathered youth. Smarto, a Dallas radio host, founded YDM in 2001 and has helped present programs at some 800 correctional facilities across 18 states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Colorado, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Texas.
Each segment of the McLennan program lasted for more than an hour at this latest retreat, with a 45-minute break during which Youth Direct-trained volunteers met with youth in small groups to shared Biblical values and offer inspiration.
Smarto has dedicated nearly two decades to coordinating Youth Direct because early in his career, while working as a Chicago probation officer, he realized that simply confining young people was not changing them, he said. They needed more attention and assistance, including mentoring and, he believed, spiritual guidance.
“I mentored troubled youth who turned away from gangs and crime. Many who I helped went on to college,” Smarto said. “I believe the spiritual part of a person is as important as good nutrition, exercise and education. I believe God can change a heart.”
As a non-profit, we bring trained volunteers into state and country juvenile facilities to share Biblical values including honesty, the renunciation of gangs, violence and illegal drugs, said Smarto, who is an ordained Baptist minister. Our ministry brings in talented musicians and quality speakers in a program designed to grab the attention of the youth, he said.
“Our hope is to reach youth with a message that change is possible and they can live a good life with positive values,” he said.
Youth Direct has been to every Texas youth facility, with repeated visits to Gainesville, Mart, McFadden and others, some now closed, he added. Programs have included a man flying over a facility with a rocket-pack, professional athletes, a NASCAR driver, a motorcycle in a circular cage and a magician.
Smarto hosts the show “Parenting Today’s Youth” on WBAP radio in Dallas.