Although 18-year-old Kyree Thorne has shared a home with his mother and grandmother his entire life, he’s yearned for the guidance that only a father can provide.
The high school senior found that support about a year ago, from an unexpected person — Vernon Bailey Jr., a lieutenant in the St. John Sheriff’s Office.
Bailey was visiting West St. John High School, where Thorne is a student, to talk about the sheriff's Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club, a program that helps young men develop the skills and traits that will enable them to thrive in both their personal and professional lives, and to ultimately become positive influences in their community.
“Mr. Bailey handed out a bunch of flyers to see what young men wanted to be a part of the program. Out of a group of maybe 15 people at my school, I was the only one that turned the paper in, because no one else wanted to be involved with cops,” Thorne said. “I saw it as a great opportunity to have a father figure in my life.”
The officers in the club serve as mentors by providing interactive and educational lessons that will benefit the young men.
“We teach them everyday things, like changing the oil and fixing the tires (on an automobile) — stuff that kids these days don't know about,” Bailey said. “We show them what to do and how to do it.”
During a January meeting, club members took a tour of a LaPlace jail so that they could get a glimpse of what life is like behind bars, and learn about “choices and consequences,” Bailey said.
A group of police officers later discussed the importance of setting goals.
The officers have also taken the group to New Orleans Pelicans games, and to a Veterans Affairs hospital to “pay respect to the veterans.”
They also taught the teenagers to be polite to women and adults. For Valentine’s Day, for example, the young men will cook and serve dinner for their parents.
Bailey has seen firsthand how students who didn’t have a plan for the future are now looking ahead and making decisions that will benefit them later in life.
Thorne is one of those students.
He spent his childhood and adolescence surrounded by what he called “negative influences,” and with unfortunate circumstances that he said some people would use as an excuse to “do whatever they want to do,” no matter the consequences, rather than strive for a better life.
The Gentlemen’s Club also came in handy for Thorne when his car broke down on the highway. He was able to jump the car, thanks to a step-by-step tutorial that a police officer performed for participating students.
“Before I went to that meeting, I had no clue how to do that,” Thorne said.
As for the teenagers who shrugged their shoulders at the officers visiting West St. John High School, they should consider joining the Gentlemen’s Club, too, he added.
“It's not often in life that you meet a group of total strangers, and right off the bat, they just want the best for you,” he said. “They want to be as involved with you as possible, and it’s a great feeling to have that support system behind you.”