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Polk County Veterans Court Program searching for mentors

Posted at 9:20 PM, Jul 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-11 21:20:02-04

BARTOW, Fla. — The Polk County Veterans Council is seeking mentors for its court program.

Three years ago the council began a program for veterans battling legal issues in the county.

It’s just one of 23 programs like it, in the state of Florida.

Daniel Penszien, a Vietnam War Veteran, says the goal is to get veterans the help they need when facing misdemeanor charges. The first of its kind was developed in New York 14 years ago when lawmakers believed it could save money. 

Since the program started three years ago in Polk County, Penzien says he has graduated five veterans from the program. 

“We want to make sure nobody gets left behind,” Penzien said.

And he knows how it feels to be left behind. In an interview, Penzien said after he came home from the Vietnam war, within in 48 hours he was on the streets of Detroit without post-war help.

“They need time to be rehabilitated,” he said.

Veterans using the Polk County Veterans Court program range from service men and women from the Vietnam War to vets coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq. 

But with a bigger need, the Polk County Veterans Council says it would like to expand its mentorship program.

“You have to understand them, you have to listen to them,” said Penzien, who is not only a veteran but also a mentor for those struggling with the law.

Gary Clark, head of the Veteran Council said it’s a way to keep serving his country.

“It’s just a matter of being a buddy,” Clark said.

Right now the program has only three mentors that are active and 17 veterans who are a part of the program.

If you’d like to be a mentor and are a veteran there will be a meeting on July 20 at 9 a.m. in County Judge Susan Barber’s Courtroom.