Rev. Audrey Taylor Gonzalez

Confining a non-violent youth to a night of lockup at Shelby County Juvenile Court’s Detention Center isn’t the way to steer that troubled kid back toward the straight and narrow. In fact, it can do just the opposite.

Rev. Audrey Taylor Gonzalez learned that lesson during the hundreds of hours she has spent working with Juvenile Court as a volunteer probation officer, court-appointed special advocate for children, and leader of the local foster care review board.

“Sometimes a child just needs time to calm down, especially if they’ve been transported because of violence involving a parent or sibling, or if they’ve run away from home,” she says. “They don’t need to be thrown in with violent juveniles who could try to lead them into a life of serious crime.”

To help provide a safe alternative for non-violent juveniles, in 2015 Rev. Gonzalez contributed grant dollars from her donor-advised fund to help establish a Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Residential Services program at Porter-Leath. The Community Foundation also provided a grant for the program. 

“What the Residential Services program makes available is not just a bed where a child can stay during a time to let things cool off, but also counseling for the child and family and follow-up services,” according to Mike Warr, Porter-Leath’s executive vice president for development. Since the initial grant, Juvenile Court has budgeted additional funding for the respite program. 

Rev. Gonzalez is pictured with Alvin Griffin, Sarah's Place Site Manager at Porter-Leath. Sarah's Place provides a safe haven for the youths served by the Residential Services program. 

A child of privilege herself, Rev. Gonzalez has always had a heart for the disadvantaged, especially children. She serves on the Tennessee Commission on Childhood and Youth and is an active supporter of a number of organizations serving young people, including Juvenile Intervention & Faith-based Follow-up (JIFF), Soulsville, Bridges, Streets Ministries and South Memphis Alliance. Juvenile justice reform is a special focus. 

“Sometimes friends say they think it’s risky for me to spend so much time working with the kids at Juvenile Court,” says Gonzalez. “Well, I say to them, let me tell you what’s really risky: Not doing what we can to help turn these young lives around while we still can. These kids are our city’s future. What happens to them matters to all of us.”