More than 1,900 proud parents, siblings, family members and friends crowded into the Anaheim Convention Center Friday night to pay tribute to the largest graduating class of Junior Cadets in the history of this unique Anaheim Police Department program.
For the past 10 years, the Anaheim Police Department has sponsored a Junior Cadet instruction series in conjunction with its Cops 4 Kids program. There were only 60 students in that program first program 10 years ago. On Friday, the program saw its biggest class ever with 414 kids graduating.
“It starts with you today,” Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada told the young graduates, then addressed the audience. “These kids are our future.”
The Anaheim Police Department Cops 4 Kids Junior Cadet Program is the only program of its kind in the state. This program is the result of a partnership with schools in the Anaheim City, Magnolia, and Centralia Schools Districts. This year, the Anaheim Fire and Rescue also partnered for the first time.
Children from age 9-12 can join the Junior Cadets voluntarily or be referred to the program by teachers and administrators, who believe the youth would benefit from the “Respect Given, Respect Earned” program motto.
One of those students is Brian O’Donnell, who started attending the Junior Cadets program six years ago. Before that, he admitted he wasn’t always doing the right thing and was getting in trouble.
“After I joined, I started fixing my behavior,” he said. “It taught me integrity. I’ve been a more determined person in life.”
Brian likes the physical activities of the junior cadets, especially the Drill Off.
“I got first place,” he said.
In addition to the Junior Cadets, Brian is active in the Boy Scouts and is an altar server at St. Boniface Catholic Church. Brian just graduated from Sycamore Middle School and will attend Anaheim High School and be part of the Anaheim Police Department Explorer program.
This year the program expanded from 14 weeks to 24 and it takes place at seven campuses in Anaheim, where each Junior Cadet gives up 90 minutes of their after-school time once a week.
A key component to the success of the program is the parent and teacher communication, said Officer Jake Gallacher, who administers the program along with Officer Leslie Vargas.
Within three to four weeks, we see a positive change in the students, Gallacher said
“It’s probably one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had,” Officer Gallacher said. “You’re a mentor to them. They look up to you.”
This year the cadets participated in community service projects for the first time, taking on 13 different projects. In total, they contributed 3,001 volunteer hours by cleaning riverbeds and beaches, picking up 100 pounds of trash at Huntington State Beach.
In a program called, “A Flag for Every Hero,” the cadets also spent a day at Riverside National Cemetery, placing flags on the headstones of those who served in the military.
Attending the program were several dignitaries including Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait and council members Lucille Kring and Gail Eastman.
Officer Amador Ununez, a founder of the Junior Cadet program, told the cadets that as someone who grew up in and still lives in Anaheim, he was especially proud of what they have accomplished.
“When I retire, I can honestly say that I’m leaving something great for my community.”