Inspired by HPD and the Union, Humble ISD students Develop Books & Bears program to help cops on Patrol

Tom Kennedy

The HPOU has formed a special partnership with members of the National Technical Honor Society in the Humble school district who thought of a positive community service project involving law enforcement.

It turns out that the program entitled “Books and Bears” was the product of student brainstorming about ways to get their organization’s name and purpose out in their community.

The group’s leaders and sponsors made a special appearance at HPOU’s May general membership meeting to introduce Houston officers to the product of their brainstorm.

Developing the Idea

The idea was to provide children’s books and teddy bears to police officers who frequently encounter youngsters while patrolling communities throughout the city. To provide these special folks with non-threatening and, indeed, positive interaction tools would help to make the often difficult tasks much easier.

Books and Bears was a close fit for students at the Humble Independent School District’s Career and Technical Education (CATE) classes at the CATE Center behind Humble High School. The center serves students from both Humble ISD and Kingwood high schools.

Risa McCann, one of the honor society’s sponsors, said technical classes go much further than old-style technical programs such as shop and cosmetology. Offered at the center the standard courses of study for cosmetology but also advanced classes in pharmacy technology, hospitality (hotel and restaurant management), criminal justice and computer science.

Student may take CATE courses that will prepare them to be doctors, pharmacists, video game developers, hotel managers and, yes, police officers.

“Technical courses are so different today,” McCann explained. “Everybody has an opportunity to excel in what they’re good at doing. They learn their strengths and aptitudes and start developing skills and knowledge before college.”

The honor society was formed earlier in the school year that just ended. Gerardo Saenz, a graduating senior, was an influential member of the group’s leadership team, which initially thought a community service project involving books and teddy bears would be fun, exciting and would have the desired effect.

Soon these leaders decided the logical steps in their project. They would seek donations of books and bears from fellow students, teachers, parents and community leaders and proceed to supply law enforcement officers with these special tools to use in their job.

Saenz outlined the real turning point in the effort. He put the essence of the project on Twitter and got a response from none other than Joe Gamaldi, HPOU’s 2nd vice president. It also helped that one of the club’s sponsors, Kira Hassler-Newsom, coordinator of the criminal justice curriculum, knew of Gamaldi and the HPOU.

“I decided it would be real cool to meet with him,” Saenz explained, “and take this to the next level.”

After an email or two, Gamaldi invited Saenz to the HPOU headquarters for a conference. Gamaldi supplied the honor society with $250.

“With that money we got books and bears!” Saenz recalled. “At first we had the idea of just getting donations from all the high schools and donating them to some place with police officers.

“Originally we had in mind the HISD police. Later, when Joe called, we decided on HPD officers. We are zeroing in on HPD. Joe contacted us through Twitter and that’s how the ball got rolling from there.”

Granted, honor society members got numerous books and bears from their fellow students but the $250 resulted in a productive trip to Walmart. “We spent $249.78,” Saenz said with a smile. “The whole thing was crazy. It was a blessing. The whole thing worked out so well.”

Learning about Police Officers

Saenz and the group appeared before the HPOU Board before laying out the special spread of books and bears in the general meeting room. Officers, particularly those in Patrol, quickly gathered up this special “equipment” to be placed in the convenient reaches of their patrol cars.

Meanwhile, both McCann and Saenz pointed out how much they and their colleagues learned about the job of policing in Houston.

For instance, they heard a report on the passage of the police pension bill in the Legislature. Saenz said it suddenly dawned on him and the others the importance of making sure those who put their lives on the line every day to ensure safety for citizens, young and old, are properly compensated.

“This really gave me a background on the issues on a day-to-day basis within our city and for the people who put their lives on the line for the protection of their citizens. This is important to understand outside of high school and K-12.”

Saenz, a Kingwood resident, impressed at least one HPOU member who told him he must be studying to be a politician. Indeed, in the Books and Bears interview the young man sounded as if he could be an advocate for better pay and equipment for all HPD officers.

His plans are to study hospitality management at Newbury College in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.

He said he thought he and the other leaders in the National Technical Honor Society in the Humble school district are leaving Books and Bears in good hands, saying, “Under good leadership you can get things done pretty quick.”

McCann explained that the Center has 16 strands of technical study. Four were represented by the students attending the HPOU meeting. And they were criminal justice, hospitality and health science. The criminal justice program, which has the potential to supply cadets to the HPD academy, includes more than 200 students.