URBANA — Del Ryan sees parallels between his former career as an educator and his new job working with recovering convicted drug addicts.
"It's very similar. It's about establishing relationships with students," Ryan said of the Champaign County drug court clients. "They have to take a number of classes and retrain on the way they think about things."
Ryan was chosen in late October as the coordinator for the Champaign County drug court, which was launched in 1999 and has graduated about 170 people.
People in the program are there because their criminal convictions are clearly related to drug abuse. Those who graduate have lived free in the community at least a year without using drugs or committing other crimes.
The recent award of a $200,000 federal grant to Champaign County's drug court enabled the county to hire a coordinator.
Ryan, 60, of Mahomet, spent most of his educational career as a teacher, principal and coach in Mahomet. From 1997 to 2006, he was principal at Mahomet-Seymour High School. After his retirement, he began volunteering at drug court.
Ryan said he was familiar with it because Judge Jeff Ford and probation officer Mike Carey, who have been with Champaign County's drug court since its inception, gave several talks to his students and their parents about the drug culture in Champaign County.
"Toward the end of my tenure, Ford asked if I'd be willing to volunteer. I was pretty familiar with the makeup and said, 'Sure, I'll help.'"
Since 2006, with the exception of filling in as an interim principal in Monticello for a couple years, Ryan said he's been in drug court most Mondays.
"My assignments ranged from writing letters trying to get scholarships for drug court participants, I helped with the website, and helped with social functions for the participants. Basically, I did what Judge Ford asked," he said.
When the money became available for the coordinator's position, Ford and others urged him to apply. He was chosen from 25 applicants, five of whom were interviewed, Ford said.
"What we were looking for was somebody who could go out and talk in public, look for opportunities for clients for jobs, or even donations, somebody with computer skills to make our statistics useful for the future, somebody who had an understanding of drug court. He fit everything we needed," Ford said.
"By doing some of this for free, he has shown a willingness and desire to help people who are in the situation they are in drug court. You can't buy commitment," Ford said.
Ryan will earn $39,000 a year for the two years the county has the grant. He is technically an employee of Prairie Center, which administers the money. He'll have an office there and later will have space in the probation office at the courthouse.
Besides making contacts with local businesses in hopes they'll hire drug court clients, Ford was most anxious to get someone with the computer skills to be able to catalog and analyze the statistics they've been collecting for years about the clients, their crimes, their successes and failures. That information can be used to obtain future grants and to guide the way the program goes, he said.
Ryan, who took several computer classes at Parkland College after his retirement and served as director of technology for the Mahomet-Seymour School district from 1992 to 1997, apparently has those skills.
Ryan said he's a bit nervous about that part of the job.
"I'm not really a stats person. To me, it's more about rebuilding lives. I've been using the term 'sustainability.' I think in drug court, the last piece of the puzzle is that we help these people get back to their daily lives. They need to feel good about themselves. And they feel good if they're employed," he said.
"I'm going to have this slogan put on my business card: 'Drug treatment courts save money, increase public safety and rebuild lives.' That says it all. It's a very worthy cause," Ryan said.