One by one, to enthusiastic applause, the elementary school students bounded up to the front of the multipurpose room to claim their prize:
A complete Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of Ralphs/Food 4 Less.
Some had exceeded their reading goals.
Others had exhibited a great attitude in class.
All were role models for classmates at Robert M. Pyles STEM Academy in Stanton and Esther L. Walter Elementary School in Anaheim.
The two schools were the first to sign up, some dozen years ago, for OC GRIP, for Orange County Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership.
Officials involved with OC GRIP, a law enforcement partnership that identifies at-risk youth and aims to increase school attendance and decrease gang activity, spent Wednesday, Nov. 14, handing out turkey dinners to youngsters who succeeded in the program’s 9th-annual Thanksgiving challenge to improve attendance, behavior and grades.
Fifteen kids from Pyles and 15 from Walter were honored at the afternoon ceremony, which marked the last GRIP event attended by Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who is retiring in December.
“I’m so happy to be here today to be a part of this,” Hutchens told the students, most of them accompanied by their parents when they walked to the front of the room to receive the dinners as well as a certificate marking their achievements. Handing out the certificates were Saddleback Church volunteers John and Jan Walden, who packed and delivered the dinners to Pyles STEM Academy.
“I first want to thank the school district,” Hutchens said. “Thank you for allowing us to have this program and inviting us into your schools.
“I really want to thank the students for your hard work. This is really a celebration of what you’ve done, that you are becoming role models for your community and for the other kids, so thank you so much for your hard work.
“And I want to thank the parents for being so involved in something so positive for our kids. This is a program that really works, and we can see the results of what happens. And I want to thank the teachers who are a huge part of this program and who put in so many hours.”
Countywide, GRIP students from 57 schools received a total of 1,000 turkey dinners Nov. 14.
“In this time of thanksgiving, we are so appreciative and thankful for the support of Orange County’s GRIP program,” said Pyles Principal Dawn Breese, who was joined by Principal Roger Nguyen of Esther L. Walter Elementary.
Also on hand was OCSD Lt. Nathan Wilson, chief of police services for Stanton.
Wilson was one of the first OCSD GRIP deputies.
“I’m very proud to be here with all of you today,” Wilson said. “To be back here today and to see how large this (program) has grown and how many children’s lives it’s affecting and how many families it’s helping gives me a very proud feeling to know that I was here when this first began.
“The reason that GRIP is still here today and the reason it’s so successful is not just because of the people up here, it’s because of the family members, the parents that are willing to put time into this to help make their children’s lives better — being here as greeters in the morning, or assisting with the various programs we have. That’s the real reason why this program has been successful. So I’m very happy to be here.”
Deputy District Attorney Lisa Grossman, GRIP coordinator for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, praised Hutchens for her longtime support of the program.
“You students have really earned the opportunity to be here today,” Grossman said.
Several deputies from the OCSD, as well as probation department officials and staff members from the two schools, loudly cheered and applauded each student as they took turns collecting their dinners during the afternoon ceremony in the multi-purpose room at Pyles STEM Academy.
The youngsters had six weeks to step up their game and bring home the turkey and trimmings to their families.
Magnolia Elementary School District Superintendent Franklin Donavan II thanked the OCSD deputies.
“Our partnership with them goes back a long ways,” Donavan noted. “I just really want to thank our probation department, the district attorney’s office and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. We couldn’t do it without them. They’ve made a huge difference in the lives of our students — your children. So thank you very much.”
Emma Leonard, 9, a fourth-grader at Walter Elementary, beamed as she received her free dinner.
“I’ve been encouraging her since last summer to do better with her reading,” said her father, Jack. “She did really well last year, and I wanted to encourage her to keep going.”
Added Leonard: “I’m glad that (GRIP) is here because I remember going to school in Chino. It’s good to have such a program in the schools. It was nonexistent back then.”
Edgar Madrigal, 10, a fifth-grader at Pyles, exceeded his reading goals.
“Great,” Edgar responded when asked what it felt like to be honored. “I’m excited.”
Edgar said he wants to be a police officer.
Said Erica Madrigal, Edgar’s mother: “I’m proud of him. It’s not really about the dinner. It’s about him reaching his goals, which I knew he could do.”