Adam Herrera, a student at Edison Elementary School in Anaheim, was asked by his teacher to explain the concept of integrity.
Without even a millisecond of hesitation, the sixth-grader responded.
“Doing the right thing, even when nobody is watching,” said Adam, standing in the driveway of his home, alongside his teacher, his father, Edison’s Principal Patricia Sandoval and a pair of Anaheim Police Department officers.
Adam, who had not been making the smartest choices in the past, learned all about integrity and other positive character traits in Anaheim’s Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership (GRIP) program.
The Operation Turkey Leg incentive is the culmination of GRIP, which ran from Sept. 26 to Nov. 4.
For excelling in GRIP, Adam and his family were among 150 at-risk Anaheim students whose families were rewarded with home-delivered Thanksgiving feasts for showing up to school every day, keeping grades up and behaving in the classroom.
“He’s done a complete 180,” said Britt Maurstad, Adam’s teacher. “He’s really practicing integrity.”
Speaking of integrity, Adam plans to donate his turkey and trimmings to a homeless shelter.
Anaheim’s GRIP is a collaboration between APD, the education community and The Girls Club, an after-school program started by the police designed to keep girls out of gangs and in school.
The program serves eight elementary and four junior high schools in the city.
Over three consecutive days ending Thursday, Nov. 17, police officers, teachers, administrators and church volunteers from the Anaheim First Christian Church fanned out through Anaheim in city-issued cargo vans packed with turkeys and all the trimmings.
The vans pulled up to apartments, houses and mobile homes delivering meals and celebrating students and their families.
Moms teared up in the front yards and living rooms of their homes as members of the delivery squad clapped and hugged and praised the young honorees for their achievements.
“I’m proud of you, Mikey,” said Mayra Castellans, mother of Edison sixth-grader Michael Tovar, whose attitude improved after participating in GRIP. “You keep up the good work.”
When the Anaheim GRIP program was introduced seven years ago, 50 Thanksgiving feasts were given away, said Zitlalic Domond, the program coordinator.
Eighty-five meals were awarded the second year and since year three, 150 meals are given annually, Domond said.
The meals are donated by the Anaheim First Christian Church, Police Chief’s Advisory Board and Walmart.
The First Christian Church also serves as the hub where the meals are divided and sorted by volunteers from My Safe Harbor, an Anaheim nonprofit that works with low-income families in the city.
Seeing uniformed police officers deliver meals, sometimes in gang-infested neighborhoods where the police are not trusted, is another benefit derived from GRIP, Domond said.
“We are trying to change the culture of the community with this program,” Domond said.