Claudia Henning given West Des Moines key to the city

Claudia Henning was presented a key to the city of West Des Moines by mayor Steven Gaer (right). | photo by Warren Taylor

Editor’s note – Claudia Henning is a 1967 graduate of Jefferson Community High School

At a packed meeting Monday, Nov. 4, of the West Des Moines city council, mayor Steven Gaer presented the Key to the City to Claudia Henning, founder of West Des Moines Youth Justice Initiative (YJI).

Following the presentation, more than 150 community members came together to celebrate Henning, whose tenacious vision sparked and sustained the most comprehensive and successful diversion program in Iowa’s Fifth Judicial District. Twenty years ago, she began mobilizing volunteers and city/county organizations to restoratively engage youth and their families and victims in a web of support and accountability.

Mayor Gaer said, “Claudia Henning’s dream was to engage the community in creating an effective way to reduce youth crime. During the 1990s juvenile crime had increased by 23 percent. Instead of the traditional punishment model, restorative justice engages the community in holding the youth accountable, addressing the needs of those harmed, and supporting youth in becoming law-abiding citizens. Claudia had experienced the power of restorative justice with adult offenders and knew this process would be effective with young people…

“YJI was born in the summer of 1999…with West Des Moines police chief Jack O’Donnell’s blessing, YJI’s powerful net of support was initiated. It has organically evolved to be the only consistently 0 percent recidivism diversion program in the Fifth Judicial District. YJI is recognized as an exemplary program by national and state law enforcement and educational organizations.”

YJI operates with the philosophy that restoring harm from offending is the responsibility of the entire community, not just individuals and individual organizations. YJI volunteers donate more than 5,000 hours annually to promote healing, increase accountability, and provide support for youth and their families.

YJI’s new director, Jennifer Hahn, continues Henning’s wise and passionate leadership to expand YJI’s reach in supporting youth to become responsible citizens. YJI extended gratitude to the West Des Moines community for their on-going support of this innovative initiative.

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