CORPUS CHRISTI Corpus Christi Teen Court will mark its 20th anniversary next month but instead of a celebration it will be the end of a program that has helped thousands of the city's youth. The nonprofit lost funding from its three longtime sponsors the city, Nueces County and the Corpus Christi Independent School District. Orlando Garcia, the program's executive director, said without that financial backing the court couldn't survive because there wasn't enough private donations and grants weren't available. The award winning court served as an alternative sentencing program for teens. Unlike a conventional court, the defendants were judged by a jury of teenagers. Senior District Judge Jack Hunter, the nonprofit's board president, said he sent out letters a few weeks ago to the City Council, Commissioners Court, school board and other elected officials asking for emergency funds to save the program. No help came. "It's sad for the community and for the young people that have been involved all these years," Hunter said. "They're the ones that are going to be the losers (in this)." Two years ago the three entities gave the nonprofit a combined $50,000 $30,000 of which came from the police department. Last year, that total dropped to $28,000 with $15,000 from the police department. The nonprofit started its current fiscal year in September with no financial backing from the three sponsors, Garcia said. The nonprofit was notified in a 2008 letter from then police Chief Bryan Smith that the department wouldn't be able to fund the program much longer. Garcia said that was because the city's portion had come from dwindling drug forfeiture funds. For a few months, the nonprofit kept going using only surplus funds. After those ran out, Garcia, who had been the only paid employee, stayed on. Garcia bought some supplies out of pocket and said he started working for free this month. Hunter told Garcia on Tuesday that it was time to shut it down. "Orlando would've gone on but I had to make the decision. I said, 'No, you need to take care of your family,'" Hunter said. The program officially will be dissolved on Jan. 29 20 years to the day from when the first court session was held. It already has stopped taking referrals. The last court session was in November. The news saddened former volunteers like Corpus Christi attorney Liza Aguilar Wood, who spent some of her high school years helping with the program. Wood, who served as a teen prosecutor and worked behind the scenes, said the experience left a lasting impression. She said the program was a success because teens had to work off their sentence instead of getting an easy way out. "Teenagers are harder on other teenagers because they know the lies the parents would fall for," Wood said. "You learn more of a lesson and say, 'I don't want to do that again.' " The court heard Class C misdemeanors, which are punishable by a fine. But instead of a fine, defendants were sentenced to community service, jury duty and sometimes ordered to write essays or letters of apology about their offense, Municipal Juvenile Court Judge Melissa Madrigal said. Madrigal, who spent a couple years volunteering with the program, said the punishments made the defendants get involved and also served as an educational tool on the justice system, Madrigal added. More than half of the cases were for traffic related offenses such as improper lane change or speeding. Other teens were sent to the court for violating curfew, disrupting class or fighting in school, according to court statistics. The program boasted a 96 percent completion rate. Teens who completed their sentences got much more than the benefit of a dismissed case. "It taught them responsibility and accountability and that there are consequences for your actions in this world," Hunter said. District Superintendent Scott Elliff said teen court has been a valuable program and stopping funding wasn't a board decision. The district had been using money from the Safe and Drug Free Schools program to help teen court each year, but federal funding has been on the decline. "Funding has been cut everywhere," Elliff said. "We had to cut $10 million from our budget to begin with." County Judge Loyd Neal said not funding the program this year was one of many tough decisions commissioners had to make. Each commissioner used to have about $25,000 to allocate to outside agencies. Every year some of the money was set aside for teen court, Neal said. But this year one of the budget cuts included slashing each commissioners amount to $20,000, which meant each commissioner had to re prioritize. 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