Tuesday morning, Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Judge Joe Benavides took on a Juvenile defense docket at the Nueces County Courts.
A group of more than 10 students from different school districts in Nueces County and their parents showed up to plead their cases.
A majority of the cases are related to vape charges. Some ISD's included Calallen, West Oso, Tuloso-Midway and CCISD.
Since the start of the school year, Judge Benavides has seen more than 500 cases related to vaping in middle and high schools.
He now sees an average of 30 to 40 cases a week. He tells us there's been an increase in vape charges over the past few years. The youngest offender was 12 years old.
"I had my own issues with learning but I continued to strive to be better and that’s what I try to relay to these kids. The minor has to go through a tobacco awareness program, get fined, and do community service," Benavides said.
Benavides is working with students from Veterans Memorial High School and TAMU-CC to present to middle school students the effects of vaping.
The middle schools included are Adkins, Baker, Browne, Cunningham at South Park, Driscoll, Grant, Haas, Hamlin, Kaffie, and Martin.
He also partnered with experts from Well-Med and Safe Home Health to study the chemicals in vapes that damage the brain. He plans to host an Encouragement Life Skills program with community leaders.
"I see these young kids that don’t understand how harmful vaping is, so I try to reach out to these kids and give them opportunities to complete school and be successful. I feel as if I’m a young kid looking at this kid in trouble. They have a lot of potential and they’re gonna be leaders of tomorrow," Benavides said.
Benavides is on the American Heart Association Board of Directors and knows what he talks about.
"I understand how harmful it is. I'm just trying to educate these kids on how to make right decisions," Benavides said.
Benavides' Encouraging Life Skills (ESL) program will utilize resources within its community leaders to teach and engage today's youth.
The ESL program will take place on May 10 at 6 p.m. on the first floor of the Nueces County Courthouse.
Benavides is also hosting a Dangers of Vaping Poster and Essay Contest for all CCISD first through fifth-grade students.
Contestants will submit a one-page essay and poster on the dangers and effects of vaping at home, school and in the community. The poster must include pictures. Both the essay and poster should include a full name, address, school name and phone number.
First place will receive a prize of $350, second will receive $250 and third will receive $150.
Students must submit by April 21 and the winner will be selected on May 10.
The three contestants chosen will be featured on TV. Minimal parental guidance is recommended. For information on where to submit, call 361-888-0201.