Ava Carpenter-McPike is a force of nature and an inspiration. She has dedicated her adult life to working with at-risk youth who often don't have a voice for themselves and have endured traumatic events. She puts her heart and soul into advocating for them and helping them change the course of their lives for the better.

Carpenter-McPike, a graduate of Tennessee State University, works as a senior probation officer and individual program coordinator for Sangamon County Court Services. Over the past 28 years, she has made an immeasurable impact on minors who have committed crimes or are at risk of committing a crime.

Over time, she has expanded her duties to help others in the community. In 2003, she was presented the Probation Officer of the Year Award by the state of Illinois. She has served on various boards including United Way of Central Illinois and Illinois State Museum Society. Carpenter-McPike currently volunteers at District 186 grade schools and Contact Ministries, among others.

Carpenter-McPike works primarily with young people age 10-18 who are detained at the Sangamon County Juvenile Detention Center for committing a crime. "When kids are detained, I am the liaison between them and the probation department, social service agencies and their parents," she said. "I create individual program plans to address their specific situation and needs. I see them through the whole process, including court appearances. I also meet with them daily for cognitive therapy. We talk about how they can better process their thoughts, how to make good decisions and how to deal with the daily struggles they face."

She continues, "Most detained minors are from broken homes. Many have addiction issues. Often the trauma they have experienced is hard to break through. Based on several factors, their final outcome ranges from juvenile prison, probation, referral for treatment or going home."

After a few years at her job, Carpenter-McPike began going into select schools to work with students on probation or at risk of committing crimes. "We talk about how they can improve their social and decision-making skills, as well as ways to repair broken relationships," says Carpenter-McPike.

Ashley Varboncoeur, assistant superintendent of the Sangamon County Juvenile Detention Center, has high praise for Carpenter-McPike. "Ava is a super-compassionate person who is involved in the community and loves to help others," she says. "I've seen her at a school in a group setting with young women. They really listen to her, and Ava listens closely to them, which is a great attribute."

In 2009, Carpenter-McPike launched a cognitive program for adults who are on probation for drug-related crimes. "We meet twice a week and focus on problem solving and cognitive-based reasoning to challenge their way of thinking and consider alternative behaviors," she explains.

And last year, Carpenter-McPike started working with women at Contact Ministries' shelter. She helps them with decision-making, self-awareness, self-esteem, addiction issues, domestic problems and anything else that might prevent them from completing the program and becoming successful.

Carpenter-McPike's mother, Pat Carpenter, nominated her for the Women of Influence award. She says she realized her daughter had all the characteristics of a woman of influence. "Ava is a person who pushes the envelope," she shares. "When someone says it can't be done, Ava says it can, and she shows you how. She has a clear vision of what she wants to achieve, and she perseveres in the face of challenges. She acts with honesty, transparency and a strong sense of ethics to earn the trust and respect of others."

In turn, Carpenter-McPike calls her mother the biggest influence in her life. "She is my motivation, my cheerleader, my best friend. She has always encouraged me and pushed me to do what I love. She says that if you do what you love, your payment comes in other ways."

And Carpenter-McPike is proud to do what she loves. "I wake up every morning, and I am elated to go to work. The kids often ask me, 'Ms. Ava, why are you always smiling?' I tell them it's because I'm happy to be here."

Carpenter-McPike has had a successful and rewarding career, but she says being a good parent is her most important achievement. She lost her second child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which was devastating. But she continued to focus on raising her first-born daughter, who is now 28 years old, earned her master's degree two years ago and lives a fulfilling life.

About her legacy, Carpenter-McPike says, "I hope I am remembered as a person of great character who believed that change is a process, and everyone is capable of change. When people think of me, I want them to say, 'She didn't give up on me when everyone else did. She was honest, and she kept her word to me.'"

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