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Story by Luis Patino, Public Information Officer II
CDCR Office of Public and Employee Communications

It may sound corny, but sometimes earthbound ‘angels’ really do get their ‘wings’ around Christmas.

Just ask a bunch of wonderfully idealistic parole agents from the Southern Region-San Diego District, who raised money to help disadvantaged kids have a special holiday.

To hear it from them, sometimes the best Christmas gift is the feeling of renewed hope that comes from sharing a special moment with a neighbor in need.

In many ways, the experience was reminiscent of the big finish in Frank Capra’s movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The stories are somewhat similar:

  • The main characters work hard and sacrifice but can’t make ends meet.
  • The community sees them struggle and comes together to make their wishes come true.
  • In the process, the ‘angel’ that helps makes the wishes come true, also gets a special reward.

In this real-life situation, the main characters are children from disadvantaged families, 350 good kids who work hard in school to reach their goals. They are nominated for the Shop with A Cop program by the schools in their local communities.

The ‘angels’ are law enforcement agents and officers who raise money to give each of the kids a special day that begins with breakfast at Sea World, and leads up to a $150 Holiday Shopping Spree at Target. Each child selected also gets tickets for a family of 4 to the park.

This year, parole agents from the CDCR’s Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) played ‘angel’ by raising funds and sponsoring 10 children.

Since one of those children came from a family of nine, they also raised funds to buy extra tickets so the entire family can enjoy Sea World together.

DAPO’s participants included Chief Deputy Regional Administrator Jon Stern, Parole Agent III Unit Supervisor Jackie Rivera, Parole Agent III Rick Carlos, Parole Agent II Specialist Louis Torres-Skerret, Parole Agent I Francisco Rivera, and Parole Agent I Agustin Aviles.

DAPO’s Southern Chief Deputy Regional Administrator said it’s a natural fit.

“That is exactly what parole tries to do, provide hope and second chances,” said Stern.

The result, he said, is extraordinary. “For our community to understand the human side of our jobs and the wonderful hearts that agents and law enforcement officers have in general, is critical for me.”

This was Parole Agent Nikki Merritt’s third year participating in Shop with a Cop. It’s her way of helping share her passion for her community and the children in it. She shopped with 10-year-old Natalia.

“The joy Natalia had when she picked out her dress was priceless,” Agent Merritt said.  Her Christmas wish was to have a pretty dress to wear at her grandmother’s 75th birthday celebration. “Natalia lit up when she found the perfect dress”.

Agent Jackie Rivera shared her first experience with the program shopping with 9-year-old Karina who picked a special doll and some craft sets with which to make jewelry. Rivera was there with a special goal in mind.

“I want the community, especially the kids to know law enforcement is there to help and that we are approachable,” she said.

Agent Francisco Rivera also hopes his participation will help bridge any gap that might exist between law enforcement and young people.

“A lot of times kids get a bad perception of law enforcement and sometimes are even scared of us.  Growing up I would hear at times from family members and even teachers, ‘if you misbehave we are calling the police so they could take you away,’” he said. “Me, as a kid, I started fearing police a little because you do not want them to ‘take you away.’  I realized that is a wrong way of getting a kid to behave. I don’t want my kids to fear police.”

Parole Agent Agustin Aviles wholeheartedly agreed.

“Hopefully those kids who participated in the event realize the law enforcement community is full of good people and they also realize we are there to help,” said Aviles.

He shopped with a young man named Francisco who’s 10.  His only wish was to get a bicycle, but he got that and more; a remote control car, Legos and a helmet.

By the time it was over, it was difficult to tell who left happier, the kids or the agents.

As if by magic, any icy awkwardness between the agents and the kids that may have been there initially, all melted away.

It seems bridges were indeed built. The young participants didn’t seem to have any fear of parole agents or other law enforcement officials.  When asked what they want to become when they grow up, most of the kids – almost every single one, said they wanted to be in law enforcement.

Can you hear Capra’s bells ringing?

Here on earth, nothing makes someone soar like they’ve got wings, more than the feeling of hope for the future.