He knew he didn’t want to be a cop and he didn’t want to be a lawyer, but finding an occupation within the criminal justice field has been important to Erick Groskopf since he was in high school.
Groskopf graduated from UCCS with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in theater. A mandatory, postgraduate internship brought him to Colorado Springs Teen Court in 2010, and he’s been there ever since.
“I got addicted to working with these kids,” Groskopf said, “I never in a million years thought I would fall in love with that work the way I did. Getting to see them change during the time they’re in the program and hearing their stories — you just fall in love with them.
“It makes you realize that there are a lot of similarities between what these kids are doing now and what I used to do back then, but I always tell them we all did stupid things as teenagers and those things shouldn’t define us for the rest of our lives.”
Today, Groskopf is the volunteer and operations director with Colorado Springs Teen Court. The nonprofit works with first-time, juvenile offenders charged with misdemeanors. Groskopf has seen kids as young as 10 and as old as 18. Between running sentencing hearings and coordinating classes, he’s constantly on the move.
His driving force is seeing the kids transform. In Teen Court, recidivism sits at about 7 percent, while traditional court programs see about 40-50 percent of teenagers reoffend.
“After talking to about half of the kids, you can tell they were just hanging with the wrong crowd at the wrong time,” Groskopf said. “The other half of them, this is only the first time they’ve gotten caught and it becomes more of a wake-up call. Some kids will say, ‘I’m glad I got caught when I did. I didn’t realize my actions had such an impact on my future.’ It’s very rewarding to see them make that transition from dreading our program to taking it as a positive learning experience.”
Over the coming year, Groskopf is hoping to extend his reach to kids who have yet to offend.
“Teen Court is in the process of rebranding to help with interventions and preventative measures,” he said.
Groskopf says the core of Teen Court’s mission is forgiveness.
“We’re going to continue with our original mission of empowering our youth to accomplish a brighter and more successful future,” he said. “We hope to get them back on track and realize that although you’ve made a mistake, you are not the mistake. That mistake should not define you moving forward because we are all human and we all make mistakes. It’s not about how many times you fall, it’s about how many times you get back up again.”