Growing up, La Habra Police Aide Juan Negrete remembers not being able to play outside his home during certain times of the day.
He remembers his neighborhood riddled with crime and violence, and he recalls how some in his family succumbed to gang life.
“I didn’t like how people were treated or how people lived,” Negrete, 19, said. “I didn’t like seeing my family terrified or embarrassed because (of family members) in gangs.”
More vivid in his memory is how the neighborhood evolved.
“The police came in and cracked down on gangs,” Negrete said. “It changed dramatically. Now, rarely anything happens.”
Seeing how the La Habra police changed his community for the better is the reason he wants to become an officer.
But first, Negrete wants to finish college.
With help from a retired La Habra sergeant, he’s making headway.
Retired Sgt. Vernon Mangels last year started a scholarship program recognizing three outstanding students from the city’s high schools — La Habra, Whittier Christian and Sonora.
The La Habra Police Association on Tuesday unveiled a plaque to honor the inaugural recipients of the scholarship: Negrete, Jack Huitt and Jake Tourett.
Each student received $1,000 to go toward college costs.
“I think education is important. I think it broadens people’s horizons,” Mangels said. “In some way, it seems to be a marker for success.”
Mangels started with La Habra in 1984, later retired and currently owns the Anaheim Resort RV Park — a business started by his grandparents in 1956.
Last year marked 30 years since the start of his career with La Habra. Mangels said in reflecting on that milestone, he felt the urge to give back.
“God has blessed me in many ways, and this is just a way to pay it forward,” he said.
Mangels worked with the La Habra Police Association to start the scholarship program.
“The partnership developed between the community and the police department is something that is challenged on a regular basis in the news across this country,” he said. “For the police association and the department to give back, really helps build those bonds.”
The recipients were chosen by their school’s principal based on their work ethic, grades and need for financial help.
In upcoming years, recipients will have to go through an application process and the winners will be selected by a board from the police department.
“I think I was chosen because I am a hard worker,” Huitt, 19, said. “At least I hope that is why I was chosen.”
The Whittier Christian alumnus currently attends Fullerton College, where he plays football. He used the scholarship to help pay for books and school supplies, he said.
He eventually wants to attend the fire academy and become a firefighter.
La Habra High School graduate Tourett couldn’t attend the unveiling because it was the first day of spring football practice at UCLA.
While playing UCLA football is prestigious, his family said Tourett is very much focused on his school work and has plans to earn a degree in engineering.
Negrete, a Sonora graduate, is currently attending Cerritos Community College, and has plans to transfer to a four-year university before enrolling in the police academy.
Members of the La Habra Police Department applauded Mangels and the students he is helping at Tuesday’s event in the lobby of the police station.
“I can’t think of a better way to give back to our community than helping our youth,” said Police Chief Jerry Price. “This is outstanding.”