COUNCIL BLUFFS — The advice Jim Doty gives to the teens he helps goes like this: “You need to make sure you are on the right path, doing the right things, because you never know when your time is up.”

The investigator for the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office uses his background in psychology and career experiences to help young adults “make the right choices.”

“When you are young, you think you can do whatever you want because you are invincible,” he said. “They think ‘I’ll live forever.’ ”

The 32-year-old Council Bluffs native volunteers his time to teach young adults in Sunday school classes at Church of Christ in Council Bluffs, where he also attends services. In addition, he uses vacation time to volunteer for two weeks during the summer at the Nebraska Youth Camp, a Christian-based camp in Kearney. There, he mentors up to 100 kids from Nebraska and Iowa. It is the same camp he attended growing up.

Doty said youth activities such as church and camp helped him avoid trouble.

“I saw how important it was in my life to have Christian friends who were doing the right things,” he said. “If I didn’t, who knows what road I would have decided to go down. Now, I like to be someone who can facilitate that in others.”

Nebraska Youth Camp has 45 adult volunteers who help mentor the young campers. Shannon Leinen, a senior director at the camp, said the kids need mentors such as Doty.

“We couldn’t operate without volunteers like Jim,” said Leinen, who directs Doty at the camp. “He’s very fun-loving and super energetic. He’s a ball of energy that loves being outdoors and working with the kids. His enthusiasm definitely enhances the experience for the campers.”

[See also: Omaha Police Officer John Martinez believes helping others will build community]

As a counselor, he is in charge of two different groups of kids: His cabin of 15 boys, and his devotional group, which is co-ed and meets every afternoon.

“Every night, you spend an hour doing some kind of sharing activity where you talk about some of the stuff going on in their lives,” he said. “It can get pretty deep, and it’s a neat experience, because you get to know everybody. … As a group leader, your job is to spark conversation.”

In his time off, Doty enjoys working out. He said he does CrossFit for almost two hours, six days a week, to stay physically and emotionally healthy.

“One of the things about this job is that it’s a constant reminder of how fragile life is. It’s tough to deal with, but it is part of the job,” he said. “CrossFit helps me cope.”

He combined his love of physical fitness with his volunteer work in a morning fitness boot camp he started at camp. Doty said the workouts were not only a way to help the kids stay fit, but also to teach them about achieving goals.

“If the academic side of school isn’t something that intrigues you, athletics still give you something to work toward and take up a good chunk of your time,” he said. “If you’re just sitting around doing nothing, you’re more likely to get in trouble or make bad choices.”

Doty has formed bonds with many of his church students and campers. Some stay in contact with him year-round through social media. Others have called on him when they’ve needed help.

[See also: In the heart of her community, Omaha Police Capt. Shayna Ray connects with those she serves]

“I had a kid who called me in the middle of the night with suicidal thoughts,” he said. “He felt scared to go to his parents with what was bothering him. ... I was able to help him work through those things. We talked with his parents together, we kept in touch, we did lunch on Sundays, and we talked.”

Doty attended York College in York, Nebraska, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in religious studies.

He was a youth worker, counseling teenagers with behavioral issues before joining the Sheriff’s Office in 2007. He later obtained a master’s degree in crime management and justice administration from Bellevue University.

Doty said his goal has always been to help others. He feels as if he gets to do that both on the job and with the kids he mentors.

He said talking about his work experiences with the youths teaches them how to avoid bad situations and helps them trust him — not only as an adult but as an officer.

“Now that I’m in law enforcement, my eyes have been opened up even more to a lot of the stuff that happens in high school, as far as drug use and alcohol and the whole gamut,” he said. “Because of all that, it’s become more important to me to be an encouraging influence and help these kids build friendships that will help keep them on a good path.”

Contact the writer: cbclark@owh.com

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.