AmeriCorps VISTA member Nick Marasco joined the Behavioral Health Equity Corps (BHEC) in February of 2021. They are currently serving at the 1st Judicial District Problem Solving Courts in Jefferson County, CO. They were kind enough to answer some questions about themselves and the work they have done as part of the program.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I come from upstate New York, I grew up and went to college there. Out of high school, football was my number one thing. I went away to college primarily to play football, but halfway through I realized it wasn’t for me. After that, I got my act together and figured out what I was interested in, history, policy, current events. Developed my interest in law, which created my interest in criminal justice and problem-solving courts. I studied political science and developed a new passion and now I’m hoping to go to law school after I finish service.
How did you get into volunteering?
I originally did an internship in my junior year of college for an opioid diversion program. At the end of the internship, my supervisor, who was the judge presiding over the opioid court, told me about AmeriCorps. After finishing my 4-year degree, I wasn’t really interested in going straight onto graduate school or a full-time professional position. I wanted to do something where I could travel and do something I was interested in. I found the Utah Conservation Corps through the AmeriCorps portal and ultimately completed a 3-month position with them. This was my first real service experience and I absolutely loved it. Then COVID happened so I went home and wasn’t sure what to do, which is when I found the BHEC AmeriCorps program which allowed me to pursue another service opportunity, while gaining some professional experience in criminal justice.
What do you most enjoy in your free time?
Living in Colorado and being outside! I do a lot of hiking and enjoy reading a lot. I watch a lot of movies, documentaries, used to do a lot of pick-up sports. I love tennis and basketball, though I haven’t done as much of that recently!
What advice would you give people considering going into service?
Definitely take into account the financial strains, as that has been the hardest aspect of it. Be prepared to go somewhere you’re not necessarily comfortable, and be ready to engross yourself in the community and find opportunities.
If you could visit one place, anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I’ve always wanted to go to Europe, probably Germany. I’ve always been fascinated by Germany. My grandfather is German and immigrated to the states. I would love to explore my roots.
What is one item you cannot live without?
My hiking shoes, as it would be uncomfortable to hike in sneakers.
What is your favorite hobby?
Camping. What is better than spending a few nights outside. I enjoy travelling, and when you’re camping, you’re immersed in a new environment. It’s a time to destress and get away from everything.
What would you like the world to know about you and your work?
A lot of people in the criminal justice system, such as public defenders and district attorneys, view problem-solving courts and treatment based criminal justice initiatives as an easy way out or not necessarily productive. But based off my year with the treatment courts, it’s an incredibly important way to rehabilitate community members. All people are redeemable, just because people have done bad things does not mean they shouldn’t have access to the resources they need to recover.
Tell us about your host site. How do you, as a BHEC member, fit into their vision of supporting communities?
I serve at the 1st Judicial District Problem-Solving Courts (PSC). The district overall has massive turnover in their judges, public defenders, and district attorneys’ offices. This creates a situation in which the stakeholders that the PSC’s are relying on for referrals are constantly changing. Therefore, there is a cycle of constantly having to inform the community and stakeholders about the problem-solving court programs. My focus has been on expanding the courts capacity to inform stakeholders. I have spent a lot of time working on their website, creating informational tools to tell the stories and creating information for stakeholders. I’ve also supported direct outreach to public defenders to expand community engagement, as well as building out resources guides for community use.
What attracted you most to work with BHEC?
I had done an internship with an opioid diversion program back in college and was interested in criminal justice and drug misuse as they are two things that collide frequently. I wanted to continue service after my conservation corps experience, so I looked for more opportunities and I found BHEC. I thought the program was fascinating and got offered the spot at the problem-solving Court, it was exactly what I wanted to be doing.
What programs/projects are you currently working on? Please describe.
Right now, I’m working on a resource booklet for court participants that provides them with information on community resources for things the court cannot provide, such as housing, food, while also reducing the hurdles to access. I also conducted a survey to the district attorneys and public defenders and other lawyers to evaluate the awareness of the problem-solving court to identify ways to improve communication structures. I’m also working on a giant database on veterans as they navigate the court system to help support identification of suitable participants for the problem-solving court.
Highlight a specific project you are currently working on or completed.
My last main project is the resource booklet for community members. Also really focused on processing the results of the legal stakeholder’s survey to identify opportunities for improvement in our communications.
What impact do you feel these projects/programs will have on the community?
The biggest thing is increasing referrals to the problem-solving court. We’ve already seen increases from years past. That’s a positive step and the biggest goal we had as there were major drop offs in previous years. Filling in the fundraising gap for the nonprofit wing has been essential to ensure additional support for problem-solving court participants.
Tell us about the support you receive from your host site.
Tara (my supervisor) is great. From the beginning she helped provide resources to help me understand the problem-solving court and has helped me learn. She’s taught me the best operating practices, while also maintaining openness to my ideas. She’s done a great job of facilitating my connections with other stakeholders. She made it easy. There was never a time when I didn’t know what to do.
What would you like to gain from service at this host site?
The understanding of the court system has been super valuable to my interests and career goals going forward. I didn’t expect to gain skills in technology and video development, fundraising, and grant writing. All are things I hadn’t really thought about pursuing before service.
What is the most rewarding aspect/proudest accomplishment of your work/position?
I would say project wise, the videos I created to set up future communication structures to keep legal stakeholders aware of the problem-solving court. I create a testimonial video which was really invigorating in being able to tell the stories about the impact that problem-solving courts can take. Seeing some of the financial increases for the nonprofit has also been super satisfying as it will help the programs going forward.