Program’s growth right thing for kids
Back in 1995, Capt. Don Cerbone had a vision. He wanted to start a program within the Punta Gorda Police Department called Do the Right Thing. It would reach out to the youths in the area and recognize them if they had performed an act of kindness for someone or had done something that had benefited the community.
Now, 17 years later, Cerbone, who has since passed away, has had his dream grow beyond anyone’s expectations, with the DTRT program becoming even more popular within the county.
Every month, five Charlotte County students are nominated for “doing the right thing,” anything from finding items such as a lost wallet or cellphone, to saving a person’s life, Lt. Joe King, current executive director of the DTRT, explained.
“It runs the entire gamut,” he said. “Everything from the miniscule to the important. But the point is we want to reward those students who do good things.”
Students are nominated, and five are selected with a ceremony held the first Thursday of every month, with the exception of June, July and August, in the Punta Gorda Council chambers. The next event is scheduled for Nov. 1 at 3 p.m. The top winner receives a $50 gift certificate. Every winner receives certificates, gift cards from local businesses and a trophy.
A $500 scholarship is given to each of the three high schools in Charlotte County as well. Last year, according to King, the program had done so well with fundraising that it offered two $500 scholarships to the schools.
King said the program is now “busting at the seams” because every type of business wants to be a part of DTRT.
“We can’t thank all of them enough,” King said. “Especially the Don Cerbone Foundation, which has proved invaluable in allowing DTRT to grow.”
Although the program is a nonprofit, it is run through the Punta Gorda Police Department. Chief Albert “Butch” Arenal serves as president, and King has been executive director for several years.
Every executive director has put his “own little twist” on the program, and King is no exception. He has reached out to local, state, and federal lawmakers to attend the monthly ceremonies and assist in acknowledging the students.
“All the leaders from the Charlotte County School Board, the City Council, principals, representatives from the state legislator’s offices and Congress are invited,” King said. “One year, Rep. Tom Rooney attended as well to give the winners a congratulatory letter.”
King is now making final preparations for the program’s annual fundraiser to be held Oct. 20 at the Punta Gorda Isles Civic Association on Shreve Street beginning at 6 p.m. Since it is the only one held during the year, he wants to make sure it is a success.
In addition to two bands, a treasure chest with “unknown contents” will be raffled off, and a silent auction will be held with numerous items that will include autographed baseballs from Philadelphia Phillies infielder Chase Utley and Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jason Hammel.
King explained that the department needs more citizens to nominate a youngster to be recognized by the community.
“It doesn’t have to be a heroic event,” King said. “It can be something as simple as taking out the garbage for somebody. We want to thank all students for doing good things, and hopefully they continue this for the rest of their lives.”
For more information about the DTRT program, visit the Punta Gorda Police website at http://www.ci.puntagorda.fl.us/depts/police/police.html, or call King at 941-575-5525.