Juvenile division provides guidance through wide range of activities

Part of a garden planted by children as part of the Community Garden Program of the Juvenile Justice Division.

Lt. Roanne Sampson is a busy woman, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

The St. Charles Parish officer oversees the Sheriff’s Office’s Juvenile Justice Division (JJD), which works with juveniles in St. Charles Parish while also working toward creating a strong line of communication and rapport between police officers and parish youths.

To that end, the division oversees 18 different programs aimed at teaching life-skills, promoting teamwork and providing an outlet for youths to explore their creativity, passions and purpose.

Many of the programs within the JJD, which began in 2013, have been the brainchild of Sampson, who said her inspiration comes from anything she sees that she believes could benefit and educate young people while also keeping them out of trouble.

“We always want to help guide these kids to be leaders in their schools and make their education a top priority,” Sampson said. “We try to make these programs fun and engaging. It also allows them to relate to us in law enforcement and see us in a different light, and on top of that, if they’re with us, they’re not getting in trouble or into mischief.”

One program Sampson pitched with success has been the Community Garden Program, in which participants work together to plant, maintain and cultivate a community garden.

The idea, she said, came from a community service trip to St. John the Baptist Church in Paradis where a garden had long been maintained by Constable Donnie White.

“He doesn’t do his at the church anymore, so he helps us with this one and it’s been really awesome,” Sampson said.

The LSU Ag-Center assists with the program by offering classroom instruction to start the students’ path to learning about healthy eating and organic food. It’s aimed at teaching responsibility, teamwork and leadership while inspiring children to be involved in beautifying their community.

“It’s fascinating. The kids get to see where food comes from and how it grows,” Sampson said. “They fertilize it, plant the seeds and harvest … they love it, especially when they’re able to see the fruits of their labor.”

“We try to make these programs fun and engaging. It also allows them to relate to us in law enforcement and see us in a different light.”- Lt. Roanne Sampson

Capt. Rodney Madere said the program hasn’t stopped at the gardening site.

“(Sampson) has people going home and gardening at their house,” Madere said with a smile. “They’re growing tomatoes and cucumbers and really getting into it.”

Sampson said there are also plans to add more nutrition-based education to the program.

“We’re going to have someone come in, take what they grow and make a salad so they’ll know exactly what (their vegetables) taste like,” Sampson said.

Another program in the JJD is G.R.E.A.T., or Gang Resistance Education and Training. G.R.E.A.T., established in 2016, is a law enforcement instructed school-based curriculum that teaches life skills, violence prevention and decision-making to elementary and middle school students. Lessons include drug prevention, conflict resolution, anger management and building communication.

“It’s been really well-received, especially with the elementary kids,” Sampson said. “We do things like emphasize keeping their school clean, picking up trash or doing anything else they can to beautify their school.”

The Pillowcase Project is another notable program that’s been recently introduced, this time in 2017. It’s implemented through collaboration between the Sheriff’s Office, Red Cross and Disney in which children decorate pillowcases by drawing items needed in preparation of emergency and evacuation. The program is aimed at educating and increasing awareness about natural hazards and preparation.

“It could be things like flashlights, batteries … anything they would need to gather in case they have to leave for a hurricane or another major issue,” Sampson said.

Aug. 4 marks a different tradition that the division collaborates with others to put on, the St. Charles Parish Youth Rally, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Sheriff’s Office combines with St. Charles Parish’s Department of Community Services, United Way of St. Charles, St. Charles Parish Public Schools, Blessed to be a Blessing and the Alpha Daughters of Zion to put on the annual event, which this year will be held at R.K. Smith Middle School.

Sampson said all of the programs and events JJD is involved with wouldn’t be possible without great support from Sheriff Greg Champagne, St. Charles Parish administration and community partners like CASA and United Way.

Madere said the JJD has made a notable impact since its creation approximately five years ago.

“It’s been a big lift because (children) are doing these activities side by side with police officers … they get to see us in a positive way and not just when something happens in the neighborhood or they see someone arrested,” Madere said. “That’s all negative to a kid.”

“When they see police officers in a positive way, as with everything they’re doing with Roanne … they’ll high-five an officer they see in Wal-Mart, shake a hand, come up and talk to officers at a football game. In the past, that wasn’t so. It’s been a big difference. We want these kids to respect and like the police and know we have to do our jobs, but we’re friendly and just like they are.”

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