Five Questions with Debra Baker, ROYAL Project Manager, Department of Public Defense

Debra Baker1. Why did you choose Public Defense as a career?  I began working in public defense right out of high school. As a young person I endured a lot challenges and knew that I couldn’t go to college right away. That’s when I stepped into the door of a public defense office – TDA (The Defender Association). I started there as a receptionist and went to school along the way. I fell in love with the work and chose over the years to remain in the work.  Public defenders then were my some of my first English instructors, my sociology teachers, and my first law instructors. I am proud of my choice to remain in the field.

2. What is the ROYAL program? The Raising Our Youth as Leaders program is a social service program and strategy that collaborates with other agencies and organizations to provide services – from case strategizing to coaching – to high-risk/high-needs youth involved in the criminal justice system. We serve youth ages 12 to 18. Our motto is “developing minds, changing lives.” We invite our youth to take responsibility and improve their lives by teaching them how to think for themselves. For instance, we teach, “A thought is a suggestion not an instruction.” This helps youth to learn that not every thought that visits the mind should be acted upon. Over the last 12 years, ROYAL has held an 80 percent success rate (average) at keeping youth from reoffending.

3. What do you do as ROYAL Project Manager? As program manager, I provide oversight for the model, including training for staff in the areas of program instruction, legal advocacy, gang intervention, educational advocacy, coaching, and crisis intervention.

4. What do you like most about your job? I love when I learn that one of our participants has made a significant change in how they think and make choices. This past Friday, I literally bumped into Ron, a former youth participant, who completed our program three years ago. He immediately told me that ROYAL has made a difference in his life; he’s still in college, studying hard and enjoying the performing arts, which was a passion he discovered while working with us. These kinds of encounters and stories assure me that our program is relevant and doing great work.

5. What is the biggest challenge in your job? Our model runs on a small budget. We know how to stretch a dime but it would be nice to have a few more resources. We’d like to increase our capacity and broaden the mentoring we provide. I would love to offer someone like Ron a package of what I would call five to 10 “mentoring moments” – hour-long sessions that would help Ron get some answers about a specific issue or area that’s important to him. What a treat this could be for both Ron and the mentor.