When a class of Gonzales kindergartners met a sheriff’s detective last week, they asked about his flashlight, his gun and his Taser.
Detective Bob Escamilla talked a little bit about the special equipment he carries, then turned to the reason he was there: to read a book.
It was the first time Escamilla had taken part in a new initiative by the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, but he felt prepared, he said, before sitting down with a kindergarten class at G.W. Carver Primary School.
“I have three kids,” he said with a smile.
Class by class, deputies are reading “You Are Sunshine,” a little book with a big message of encouragement for children, to the parish’s public kindergarten students.
Over recent weeks, the deputies have read the book to kindergartners at G.W. Carver and Donaldsonville primary schools, the two primary schools with the highest number of free- and reduced-price lunches in the parish.
The Sheriff’s Office plans to continue until it reaches every kindergarten student in the school district, over the course of the next year, Maj. Ward Webb said.
“ ‘When you try to do something new that is very hard and you finally do it, you feel your sunshine inside,’ ” Escamilla read from the book Friday to kindergartners gathered in the library of G.W. Carver Primary, situated off Cornerview Road in the Gonzales area.
In simple language, the book touches briefly on situations when a child might encounter a bully or see parents fighting or go through their parents divorcing.
“ ‘You may think that your sunshine has been broken in two and will never be able to shine again,’ ” Escamilla read.
“ ‘But after awhile, a broken sunshine can get well.’ ”
The book, authored by Shirley Porter and illustrated by Lisa Homan-Conger, came out of an effort called the Sunshine Project, begun in 1997 by now retired Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball to build self-esteem in young children.
Today, The Sunshine Foundation, a nonprofit organization, continues to raise funds to produce and distribute the book to children across the state.
“Since 1998, we’ve given away 700,000 books all over the state,” said author Porter, who attended the reading at G.W. Carver.
“Children identify with sunshine. It’s very positive. It’s something they put in all their drawings,” said Porter, who has a degree in education and is a licensed social worker.
Webb, with the Sheriff’s Office, said Sheriff Jeff Wiley had wanted to start a children’s reading program.
A few weeks after Webb and Wiley talked about that possibility in the fall, Wiley went to a fundraiser for the Sunshine Foundation, Webb said.
“You Are Sunshine” seemed like a perfect fit with what the sheriff hoped to do, Webb said.
The Sheriff’s Office coordinated its effort with the Ascension Parish school district.
The reading project is twofold, Webb said: “It lets children see that we’re human and we’re here to help them, and it promotes self-esteem.”
“We’ve loved it,” G.W. Carver Assistant Principal Martha Babin said.
Each child gets a copy of the book to bring home.
Leaving the library on Friday afternoon, after hearing the detective read the book, one kindergartner pointed to an illustration of a little boy with a happy sunshine face on the front of his shirt, like a bright logo.
“It means sunshine in your heart,” 5-year-old Easton Roshala said.