Joe Vargas, a former Anaheim police officer and president of the nonprofit Anaheim Cops 4 Kids Foundation, looked out at the group of youngsters who were being honored with “Do The Right Thing” awards Friday at Anaheim Police headquarters and said the future of the community is in good hands.
A dozen school-age youngsters were given the award, which recognizes the ways in which each child provided selfless service to the community.
“At such a young age, they are doing such amazing things, not for themselves but for people in need,” said Vargas, also a columnist for Behind the Badge OC. “Rather than thinking of themselves, they are thinking of others.”
Dozens of family members and friends, along with police personnel, were on hand June 24 to support the honorees, who each received a $75 Target card.
The “Do The Right Thing” program started in 1990 in Miami when the Miami Police Department honored a teenager for turning in a loaded gun at school.
Community members then got the idea to partner with the department on a program that would celebrate the positive achievements of youngsters on a regular basis.
Since then, the program has morphed into a nonprofit with 58 chapters in the U.S. and around the world.
The Anaheim chapter was started by Aviella Winder, who received the award in 2009 in Rochester, N.Y. for a variety of fund-raising efforts that raised money for hospitals, nursing homes and the military.
“This is the part of policing that I love,” Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada told the audience. “This is where we get to recognize our youth. I believe investing in our youth is what we have to do.”
Honorees this year are:
Raya Allison, 1st grade, Stoddard Elementary School
About a year ago, Raya discovered that it’s possible to donate your hair to children who have lost their own hair due to a medical situation. Raya donated to an organization called “Children with Hair Loss,” which makes hairpieces for children. Raya’s hair is growing back, and she plans to donate it again next year.
Joseph Cruz, 2nd grader, Walt Disney Elementary School
Joseph purchased bracelets called “Kinder Reminders” for all of his classmates. The alphabet bracelets spell out words such as forgiveness, empathy, compassion and dignity. Joseph felt it was important for his classmates to embrace these principles.
Mario Mendoza, 3rd grade, Betsy Ross Elementary School
Mario is described as a friendly kid, a role model and a leader to his classmates. He displays patience and never gets frustrated when working with his Special Needs Class Buddy, which can provide special challenges.
Adeline Vo, 4th grade, Stoddard Elementary School
Adeline is among 35 Vietnamese children in Southern California who were honored for their contributions in maintaining an awareness of their ancestral traditions. She also participates in her school’s philanthropy club and GATE program.
Sofia Gomez, Charliez Martinez, Valeria Lara and Emily Villasana, 6th graders, Stoddard Elementary School
These four friends organized a school wide food drive. They ran their idea by the principal and then hung posters and handed out flyers to promote the campaign. They collected food in the morning from individual classes.
Justin Nguyen, 6th grade, Betsy Ross Elementary School
Justin has been a member of the Peer Assistance Leadership (PA) program for two years and is president of the club this year. He helps out in the library every morning before school and assists his teachers in reading to students and mentoring classmates in technology.
Mia Spencer, 7th grade, Sycamore Jr. High School
Mia is the oldest of four siblings and has been in the foster care system since age 3.
She has been in the Girl Scouts for five years and serves the community in a variety of ways, including volunteering at animal shelters and donating items to women’s and children’s shelters.
Mia was recognized by the American Legion for displaying six positive character traits: courage, honor, leadership, patriotism, scholarship and service.
Michael Blanco, 11th grade, Yorba Linda High School
Michael serves as the “Leave No Trace” leader in Boy Scout Troop 824, where he mentors younger scouts on the need to keep the community clean.
He is a DJ and volunteers his services at scouting events and for special education students at Esperanza High School’s Adult Transition Program.
Jay Edward Jones, 12th grade, Esperanza High School
Jay has attained the prestigious level of Eagle Scout in Boy Scout Troop 723 and has contributed more than 400 hours for a variety of organizations that include: the hot meals ministry at Orangethorpe Christian Church, Fallen Heroes Memorial and California Intercoastal Cleanup Days.
For his Eagle Scout project, he put in more than 500 hours to build a K9 memorial wall for the Placentia Police Department, including fundraising for the project and helping during construction.