A more promising path forward

With your support, we can change a child’s life trajectory through engagement and empowerment.

A more promising path forward

With your support, we can change a child’s life trajectory through engagement and empowerment.

Everyone has purpose.

The key is unlocking that potential.

How can you assist?

Skill Building, Connection Making & Project Support

The opportunity to begin again

It all begins with the commitment to change.


This isn't just a safety net.
This is a safety network.

The Judge Dinkins Educational Center provides juvenile vocational training in Davidson County for adolescents who might be at risk or engaged with the juvenile or criminal justice system. The Center’s programs are supported by social and emotional learning and focused on sustainable, hands-on education for long-term employment.


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A Model of Service & Civic Leadership: Judge Richard Dinkins

“Judge Dinkins’ life and career are marked by an exemplary commitment to service, and he stands as a pillar of civic leadership in Nashville”

–  Janet Miller, CEO of the Nashville office of Colliers International

More About Judge Richard Dinkins
Richard Dinkins was a judge of the Tennessee Court of Appeals Middle Section. He assumed office on January 14, 2008. He left office on September 1, 2022.

Dinkins was appointed to the court by Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen on January 14, 2008, and retained for two successive terms. Deciding not to run again, Dinkins retired at the end of his term in September 2022.

He received his undergraduate degree from Denison University in 1974 and his J.D. degree from the Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1977.

Upon completing law school, Judge Dinkins engaged in the private practice of law, practicing for twenty-six years in a general civil practice. His practice included civil rights and constitutional litigation, as well as serving as counsel for Fisk University and the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency. Judge Dinkins was appointed Chancellor of Part IV of the Chancery Court for Davidson County in September 2003. He was elected to the same position in August 2004 and reelected in August 2006. Judge Dinkins was appointed by Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen to the Court of Appeals in January 2008 and was elected in August 2008.

Over the course of his sixteen years of dedicated and insightful service on the Tennessee Court of Appeals, he was considered “one of the most gifted jurists this State has ever produced” per Tennessee State House Joint Resolution 1140, honoring Court of Appeals Judge Richard H. Dinkins on the occasion of his retirement from the bench.
Judge Richard Dinkins


When admitted to the Judge Dinkins Educational Center (JDEC), students will be required to take a language and math assessment. The assessment does not determine eligibility for participation; rather, it allows the JDEC to write a personalized plan for each student. 

The curriculum at the JDEC is structured in two phases. Phase one introduces students to a pre-construction curriculum, a soft skills curriculum, and personal well being. The pre-construction curriculum includes the OSHA 10 hour safety certification and the NCEER’s Introduction to Basic Construction Skills. Accompanying this classroom instruction, students are expected to participate in a class for personal finance, counseling, possibly substance abuse, and Mike Rowe’s sweat curriculum. Phase one is approximately 16 weeks long.

Phase two includes pre-apprenticeship training. During this phase, and through our partnerships in the construction management and sub-contracting industries, students will receive on-site training as well as 144 hours of classroom instruction. During this time, students may receive pay from either the sponsoring partner or the Department of Labor. 

Students may stay at the JDEC until they have completed their pre-apprenticeship hours or have turned 18 and are able to enter the workforce. If a student desires, he/she may stay at the JDEC until they turn 19. 

Upon completion of programs, a student will be prepared to enter into an apprenticeship in either electrical, plumbing, or welding. 

JDEC cost to incarcerate an individual


Jim Todd, a young prosecutor in the Davidson County District Attorney’s office, was named special prosecutor for violent and gang related juvenile offenders. In this role, Todd had the unenviable task of prosecuting juvenile offenders in the adult criminal justice system. 

Repeatedly, Jim saw the same sad story. At-risk juveniles, primarily from disadvantaged families, turned to selling narcotics as a way to make money. Often used by more sophisticated traffickers, juveniles worked the street and were often arrested. Once arrested, the juvenile justice system and criminal justice system did nothing to help these at-risk teens find a meaningful way to make a decent living. Often shackled with a felony conviction and limited to low-paying low-skilled employment, youth and at-risk teenagers often returned to the only means they knew to make a livable wage, selling narcotics. 

In the 1990s, Jim Todd was serving on the board of Nashville’s Urban League. During that time, he was frustrated, and he lamented to his colleague and president of the Urban League, Frank Abernathy, about the trajectory of adolescents’ lives once they have been convicted in juvenile court. Both discussed a need to provide meaningful training in an effort to break the cycle of crime and recidivism. The idea was to establish vocational training for at-risk youth in the areas of carpentry, masonry, electrical, welding, and plumbing. Unfortunately, the idea remained just that – an idea. 

In 2005, Jim Todd left the District Attorney’s office along with fellow prosecutor, Katie Hagan, and went into private practice. For the next seventeen years, Katie and Jim represented defendants in both state and federal court. Their background in criminal defense further illustrated the need for a vocational center. Defendants would be arrested for small drug related offenses and receive probation. They would be told to seek employment. Unfortunately, the only opportunities available were typically minimum wage jobs. When faced with the reality of making two hundred and fifty dollars a week in a new job or making five hundred dollars a day selling drugs, defendants chose the latter. 

The cycle for defendants would continue. Upon a second arrest, defendants would receive jail time and then be placed on probation. Now saddled with a felony conviction, any employment was more difficult, if not impossible. Returning to drug trafficking, defendants would be arrested again and often sent to the Department of Corrections. Once paroled, the cycle would continue. 

Eventually, upon re-arrest and now with a substantial record, defendants would be facing significant time within the federal system. The revolving door, combined with the use of weapons and violence to protect their drug trade, often meant that an at-risk teenager who began selling drugs to make money, was often dead or facing decades in prison by their 30th birthday. 

In 2021, serendipitously, Jim Todd ran into his old colleague, Frank Abernathy, at the courthouse. Frank and Jim, along with Katie Hagan, rekindled their idea of creating a vocational center for at-risk juveniles. The three started meeting to discuss plans, but made little progress in getting the project off the ground. Frustrated with their lack of progress, the three brought in longtime friend and native Nashvillian, Deb Varallo. Deb is the President of Varallo Public Relations and has a reputation within the community of getting things done. With Deb on board, and holding the groups feet to the fire, a 501 (c) (3) organization was formed, and the group began looking for an executive director.

While serving on the Board of Saint Matthew School, Katie had the opportunity to work with the principal, Tim Forbes. After a few conversations about the project, Tim expressed his interest in working to establish the vocational center. In May of 2023, Tim accepted the position as the executive director.

As the Vocational Center progressed, three additional distinguished Board members were added:

Karl Dean, former Davidson County Public Defender and Nashville Mayor, often represented at-risk youth who were being prosecuted by Jim Todd. Mayor Dean was quick to apply his name and leadership to the Board as well. 

Sheila Calloway, Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge and former Assistant Public Defender, is also well aware of the difficulties that face at-risk youth. She believes our at-risk youth need to become priority youth and has agreed to sign on to the Board.

Deb Varallo has selflessly transitioned as a retained advisor to lend her much needed services as a Board member. 

At the suggestion of Frank Abernathy, the group chose to honor the life of Judge Richard Dinkins by naming the vocational center the Judge Dinkins Educational Center. Judge Dinkins practiced law in Nashville for 26 years, focusing on civil rights and constitutional litigation. He also served as counsel for Fisk University and the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency. He was appointed Chancellor of the Part IV Chancery Court for Davidson County in 2003, where he served honorably until his appointment to the Court of Appeals in 2008. Judge Dinkins retired from the bench in 2022 after a long, distinguished career. 

Board & Advisors

Frank Abernathy

Sheila Calloway

Karl Dean

Katie Hagan

Lachanta Lampkin

S.L. Lampkin

Rachel Pack

Ben Rooke

Jackie Shrago

Jim Todd

Introduction to JDEC

From JDEC Executive Director Tim Forbes