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Refinishing furniture and life at DJJ

Youth at the SC Dept. of Juvenile Justice are learning life skills through career-like settings.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — For about a decade, the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has offered youth work programs at their facility.

From welding to upholstery, the programs offer as an opportunity for these young people to prepare for life outside of DJJ. 

“We have young people who actually work and learn how to create objects, and I call them works of art really," Andy Broughton told News19. Andy has been at DJJ for over 30 years and oversees the woodworking and upholstery program.

“It’s wonderful to watch them gain skills and feel more confident," Broughton says. "You can tell that they are just so happy with themselves that they can do something else besides the stuff that they were doing at home, which most of the time was negative. And now, they’re doing these positive things, and people are telling them how good they are, and so I see self-confidence grow in them.”

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Some students higher up in the program become 'lead workers.' They are more-or-less supervisors, who watch over the other young people and help them out when needed. "They’re like quality assurance. They look at their pieces and say this needs to be fixed, that needs to be fixed. So, they learn leadership skills with each other," Broughton says. 

Copeland is an 18-year-old lead worker who has fallen in love with upholstery. “At first, I started working on small chairs. Then I started working my way up to wing-backed chairs, sofas and now I’m doing this toy box," Copeland says. “I ain’t never had a job before so when I came here they taught me this skill. So now I’m interested in it, so I basically put my all into this ... so this is going to help me.”

RELATED: SC inmates making masks, helping during COVID-19 pandemic

Most of their work is sold at the Store of Hope on Broad River Rd., where the money made goes back into the program and also helps the youth pay restitution or build up savings for when they go back into the community.

18-year-old Curtis says, “the things that we do here, I refer it back to me. Like, I like referring back to my life - like how I take an old chair and I refinish it. That’s what basically DJJ did to me. This work program, it refinished me. It took that old chair when I was coming in, and it changed me.”