When it came to back-to-school outfits, 6-year-old Jocelyn Noriega made a beeline for the clothing racks in search of sparkle and color.
At the Target store at 101 S. Euclid St. in Anaheim, Jocelyn found things that made her happy: a Minnie Mouse T-shirt, a silver moto jacket with a picture of a stereo on the back, and a pink JoJo Siwa dress with sequins.
The dress was a major find for Jocelyn, a fan of the YouTube star.
“I’m so excited about first grade,” Jocelyn said, looking for more outfits.
Jocelyn was one of the 50 school-aged children who took part in the Orange County Family Justice Center Foundation (OCFJC) eighth annual Back to School Program.
Each year, the foundation selects children who graduate from its youth violence prevention programs, Kids Creating Change and Real Teens/Real Talk. The children, some as young as 5 years old, are victims or witnesses of family violence and violence in their community.
“Oftentimes with family violence, it’s not just the primary victim who suffers but the entire family, including the children,” said Anaheim Police Deputy Chief Julian Harvey, who is also on the foundation board. “We identify kids with tremendous need and what better time than before school gets back to give them a little leg up with some nice clothes and supplies, with items that help make the transition back to school a little easier and more enjoyable.”
Each child got to spend $125 on school clothes at Target, which opened its store Wednesday morning before regular opening hours so the children – each paired with a volunteer or two – could shop.
Anaheim Fire & Rescue Deputy Chief Tim O’Hara was paired with Kelvin Cortez, a quiet 9-year-old who will be starting third grade.
“It’s been awesome to get to know Kelvin,” O’Hara said. This was his first time volunteering with the program. “He was very shy but he’s talking and smiling more. And he’s very decisive. It’s no or yes. He likes math so he keeps us on budget.”
Five-year-old Alonso Rivera had fun shopping, pushing his shopping cart, and then pretending to be one of the display mannequins before spotting a robot sweatshirt he wanted for school.
“It’s so great,” he said, pointing at the robot.
Eight-year-old Isabella Jasso, who found two sweaters and a pair of shoes, said shopping for school clothes was really neat. What was she most excited about for school?
“Seeing all my friends,” she said.
Susan Bruegman, the OCFJC Foundation’s Immediate Past President and wife of Anaheim Fire & Rescue Chief Randy Bruegman, has been participating in the program since its inception.
“Many of these children will come to you and say, ‘I never had a new pair of shoes to start school before,’ or ‘This is the first time we’ve ever gone shopping for school before,’” she recalled, teary eyed. “Or ‘Do you think we could spend some of this money for socks and underwear for my sister because she needs new things but she couldn’t come?’ It’s very impactful.”
After the shopping is done, they returned to the center, where the kids were given backpacks filled with school supplies.
Harvey added that the event allows police officers to pair up with members of the community and do something that people don’t often see them do.
“These are the kinds of things our officers do regularly but it’s not often known, and they’re doing it voluntarily,” Harvey said. “They’re here on their own time because they want to make a difference. Sometimes those really informal interactions with a young person can make a huge and lasting impact.”