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Honoring Youth Is Prescription for the Future

Unlike some "feel good" programs, that seem to come and go in our society, the "Do the Right Thing" program is still going strong in its birthplace — Miami

December 01, 2000  |  by John A. Makholm


The “Do the Right Thing” program fosters partnerships between police officers, kids and the community. Recent winners gathered for a snapshot with their chief of police. Standing, from left, Renee Stoodt, Dianna Monteigas, Asia Cunningham, Chief Raul Martinez, Christopher Cruz, Elouise Johnson; kneeling, from left, Tyrell Lawson and David Floyd III.

In these days of the Columbine High School shootings and countless other similar tragedies involving youngsters, we often allow these violent acts to overshadow the good deeds that young people perform in communities across the nation, each and every day.

Take, for example, Tony Casalino, an 8-year-old boy in Ft. Myers, Fla., who intercepted a German shepherd that was about to attack his 3-year-old nephew. Tony suffered several severe and painful dog bites in order to save his nephew.

Another example is John Wilt, a 10-year-old boy living in Cape Coral, Fla., who agreed to be home-schooled so he could help his mother care for his stepfather after a construction accident left him paralyzed from the neck down.

None of these heroic acts drew national headlines. Fortunately, however, they did draw the attention of the "Do the Right Thing" program in Miami, which recognizes and rewards young people for good deeds that would otherwise go unnoticed.

About a decade ago, Donald Warshaw, who was then the chief of the Miami Police Department, officially honored a Miami teenager who had found a loaded gun at his school and had turned it in to authorities, despite peer pressure to do otherwise. That awards ceremony provided the impetus for a program that has become international in scope. The program now claims more than 32 chapters nationwide, including 14 in Florida. There is even a burgeoning chapter in the United Kingdom.

The program's goals are:

  • To reinforce socially desirable behavior among youth.
  • To demonstrate that good kids are newsworthy.
  • To foster positive relations between the police department and area businesses.
  • To enhance the relationship between underprivileged youth and police officers.
  • To develop a program network of chapters that will benefit youth nationwide.

How It Works

Program chapters have committees that decide which nominated children will be honored. Committee procedures vary from agency to agency. In Venice, Fla., for instance, the board is composed of local chiefs. In other locations, such as Punta Gorda, Fla., community leaders and agency employees make up a board that reviews monthly submissions and chooses the winners. In the Miami area, "Do the Right Thing" receives more than 1,000 nominations each month. Only 10 are selected as winners. Then, once a year, finalists are chosen for the regional dinner and awards ceremony.

Don't think that this is just a program for large cities such as Miami. Several years ago, when Chief Arnold A. Gibbs left Miami to become the new chief of police in Cape Coral, Fla., he brought  the "Do the Right Thing Program" with him and established a chapter in southwest Florida. At that time, I was assistant chief of police in Punta Gorda. Our department was very excited about this program as an extension of our commitment to partner with the community. Through the efforts of the late Captain Don Cerbone, a retired New York City police officer who volunteered his services to Punta Gorda, we established a program in our city of less than 15,000.

The "Do the Right Thing" program was  the single most significant program that I had seen implemented during my 21 years with the Punta Gorda Police. Everyone embraced it: members of the police department, city council members, local service organizations, and numerous members of the private sector, who provided the financial backing so important to the program's success. Yes, that's right. The program is funded almost entirely by members of the business community and local service organizations through monetary and "in-kind" donations.

The Punta Gorda program continues to flourish today under the guidance of the program coordinator, Officer Melissa Reynolds.

"Charlotte County (Punta Gorda) is blessed with young people who are doing great things in our community," Officer Reynolds told me recently. "We honor kids for a variety of good deeds, such as turning in found property, conservation efforts, community service, aiding the elderly and disabled, even the occasional act of saving the life of a person or an animal.  Sometimes we honor them just for being good role models for their peers. We feel that every young person deserves to be recognized for their efforts and without the 'Do The Right Thing Program,' the public may not be aware of these good deeds."

Get the Word Out

Once your agency establishes its own local chapter and the program is up and running, you can organize a publicity blitz through your local media to help make local citizens aware of the program. Next, you can distribute nomination forms throughout the community through local newspapers and in conjunction with the local schools. The nomination forms can be filled out by anyone in the community who knows of a child whose accomplishments, attitudes or outstanding efforts make him or her a positive role model for his or her peers. These forms are then mailed to the program director at the law enforcement agency, who typically meets on a monthly basis with a committee to choose the monthly winners.

Many times, teachers and school administrators nominate students. Even local police officers will enter the names of deserving recipients. One such winner was 12-year-old Roxanne Walters who was recognized for the hundreds of hours she has volunteered working at the local library since she was 10 years old.

Tags: Awards and Honors, Police Chiefs


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