Featured Program: STAR

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Deputy Jacob Merrifield with a fourth-grade class from Our Lady of Malibu

Teaching Youth Skills for Life

The Sheriff’s Youth Foundation helps young people with limited resources choose a better path in life through a variety of intervention and mentoring programs. The Success Through Awareness and Resistance (STAR) program was developed to prevent promising futures from being derailed by substance abuse and gangs, and provides youth with the tools to make smart life choices and reject negative peer pressure.

With 11 full-time deputies, two part-time deputies and three professional staff members, STAR reaches about 24,000 kids each year, working alongside specially trained L.A. County classroom teachers in 127 schools. Sergeant Tomas Rodriguez recently took over the STAR unit and is overseeing changes to streamline the program.

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Sergeant Tomas Rodriguez is newly leading and overseeing changes to the STAR program.

“I’m excited to be the new sergeant at the STAR unit because it gives me the unique opportunity to manage deputy personnel who effect positive change within the youth community,” he says.

STAR’s main outreach utilizes the Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) research-based curriculum, which consists of four interrelated components designed to target middle-and elementary-school students and their families, aimed at creating positive behavior changes.

In addition to teaching the importance of being good citizens and rejecting gangs, the middle school lessons include how to set goals, make informed decisions, communicate effectively, deal with peers, and effectively manage anger and conflict, among other important skills that will help students be successful in all areas of their lives. The STAR unit is currently modifying the GREAT curriculum to replace the Too Good for Drugs program, which it currently uses for teaching kindergarten through fourth grades. Rodriguez’s goals include expanding the STAR unit and programs to reach all L.A. County schools, and he is working closely with SYF Program Director Dr. Kathleen Van Antwerp to incorporate the curriculum into all 16 YAL centers as well.

As with all the SYF’s programs, mentoring and building positive relationships between young people and law enforcement role models is a cornerstone of success. “The kids love the programs and always treat the deputies like movie stars!” says Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is enthusiastic about the program’s role in making young people’s futures brighter. “I am very excited to be part of a team that teaches children skills that will help them make wise choices for a healthy lifestyle,” he says. “When the children graduate from our program, destiny will favor them because they are prepared in mind, body and spirit.”


Click for more information about STAR, or call (562) 946-7040.