- Associated Press - Monday, June 9, 2014

MONROE, La. (AP) - Deputy Kenneth Tramble grew up without a father. Since a mentor helped him when he was a child, Tramble has dedicated his career to helping at-risk Monroe children realize their potential.

In 1990, he founded Deputies Making a Change, a mentoring program through the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office for boys aged 9-13.

“I was raised on that same side of town. I was part of a single-parent home. … I kind of relate to these guys,” Tramble said. “I always tell these young men, ‘Don’t let where you come from dictate where you’re going in life.’”

THE PROGRAM

Tramble believes everyone needs a role model. DMAC supplies them for 25 boys at a time. For the program’s first few years, young girls were included, but Tramble said staffing requirements keep girls from joining now.

Deputies are selecting students for next year’s program from Shady Grove Elementary School, Swayze Elementary School, Robinson Elementary School, Richwood Middle School and Ouachita Junior High School. Principals give DMAC a list of candidates considered “on the verge of going downward” because of conduct, grades and living circumstances.

“It’s an honor to be part of DMAC. Children ask to be part of DMAC,” said Mary Cannon, principal of Jack Hayes Elementary School.

Though DMAC has a full-time office only in Jack Hayes, Tramble hopes to expand into the other schools, which the deputies visit daily, attending classes with the students to encourage good behavior and focus.

“We try to create a positive environment, a positive structure,” Tramble said. “First thing in the morning, we’re in their schools.”

DMAC monitors students’ progress throughout the year with access to their grades and former transcripts.

In the afternoon, deputies collect the boys from school and bring them to the recently renovated DMAC classroom at Jack Hayes for supervised homework and tutoring time. Each student has his own desk and school supplies as well as access to laptops and a wireless printer. Tramble said he starts by lining the boys up in formation; students announce what subjects are giving them the most trouble during roll call.

THE TRIPS

DMAC also aims to expand the boys’ familiarity with the world, starting with their home state.

Each year, deputies take the boys to the Louisiana State Penitentiary and local military bases, ending with a graduation trip to Baton Rouge and the Louisiana State Capitol, where the boys meet legislators and learn the process for creating a bill.

Tramble said the trips are important to “open their eyes, broaden their horizons.”

At Angola, prisoners talk about the mistakes they’ve made and the consequences they’ve faced, but highlight that “just because you make a mistake, doesn’t mean you can’t change,” Tramble said.

Along the way, Cpl. Marvin McFarland said he takes thousands of pictures of the boys to make each event feel special. The deputies have plastered their walls at Jack Hayes with photographs of their classes, keeping photo albums full of the children meeting city officials, participating in community service and even getting a round of haircuts.

Tramble said he hopes to bring the next class to Washington, though the expense always presents a problem.

THE DEPUTIES

Cannon said the deputies of DMAC “go out of their way” to provide support for the boys, who receive “genuine caring from these men.” Cannon said the deputies even use their own money when necessary to get the boys what they need.

“Nine times out of ten, it’s something so simple,” Tramble said, pointing out that even buying a notebook for the boys can prevent problems in class.

In the beginning, Tramble mentored the children on his own. Now, he works with four other deputies. They total 60 to 70 years of police experience, Tramble said.

“We know what to tell a young man, how to talk to him,” Tramble said.

He founded the program after seeing children he’d worked with in the community spending time with convicted drug dealers.

Though the program suffered a hiatus between 1998 and 2000, once Jay Russell was elected sheriff McFarland - then working at the post office - got Russell to re-start the program.

“That was one of (Russel’s) goals, one of his campaign promises, was to always help the kids,” Tramble said.

McFarland said, “We saw a need for some intervention with young people. We just got tired of arresting juveniles for things we can help.”

Tramble said the most vital aspect of the DMAC program is the deputies’ sustained relationship with the children. “Most of these young men are used to seeing people come into their lives and just leaving,” Tramble said. “When we graduate them out, we follow them into high school. We don’t get rid of them.”

McFarland said, “You’ve got to find out what they like and work with that.”

Tramble said it would never be possible without the support of the boys’ parents. Should the boys’ lives at home contradict the tenets of the DMAC program, Tramble said they might as well be “boxing with each other.”

THE RESULTS

Tramble said the program sees an 80 percent success rate, and students always pass into the next grade by the end of the year. “I’m happy to say these kids so far have been out of trouble - they’ve been passing,” Tramble said.

“I have seen it make a difference in every single child who’s been part of the program,” Cannon said.

The first graduates are now adults, many working in professional fields. At last year’s graduation, an alum of the first DMAC program addressed the boys. He recently obtained a master’s degree in criminal justice from Grambling State University.

“If you’ve got somebody there that’s really supporting you, not even a father, but a role model or a mentor, it really goes a long way,” Tramble said.

But the most inspiring moment, McFarland said, was when DMAC brought the boys to a large restaurant chain and asked for the manager. The man who greeted them was a former DMAC student.

“Seeing the change in them,” Tramble said. “Seeing that light bulb come on. … Getting a young man to realize his potential.” For Tramble, nothing feels better.

Boys frequently want to participate in DMAC again, but with room for only 25 students at a time, those requests cannot always be honored.

“It’s definitely a duplicatable program,” Tramble said. “It just takes a little time and effort.”

___

Information from: The News-Star, https://www.thenewsstar.com

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