INA, Ill. (Oct. 25, 2018) – Rend Lake College students and local leaders shared the stage at the Seventh Annual Criminal Justice Roundup for Scholarships event, held Monday night in the RLC Student Center’s Private Dining Area, for an evening of celebration and gratitude.
In a record-setting year, the Roundup brought in $4,000 for student scholarships. During this academic year, seven students received financial assistance for their enrollment in the program – more than any previous year. As part of their way to say thank you, the students met face-to-face with donors.
Ron Meek, RLC Criminal Justice Professor and event organizer, offered opening remarks and special words of thanks to three individuals who donated the full $500 scholarship for students to use during the 2019-20 academic year.
“At this point, we’ve given around 40 scholarships to Rend Lake College students, and we couldn’t do it if it wasn’t for the people in this room who donate and support the students. I really appreciate that,” said Meek. “There are a few people who donated the full scholarship, and I wanted to take a moment to recognize them, and thank them for their support. Rob and Tammy Austin; my wife, Beverly Hart-Meek; and J. Nelson Wood. Thank you all for that extraordinary donation to our program.”
Three of the seven scholarship recipients also spoke briefly about what the scholarship has meant to them. The other four students are Jeffrey Boner (Zeigler), William Heard (Valier), Joe Shirrell (Mt. Vernon), and Tyler Weeks (Christopher).
“This really means a lot to me, because I come from a family where most people didn’t go to college. My parents always talked about the importance of going to college, because they want me to do more than they did in life,” said Chase Witbracht of Pinckneyville. “There wasn’t a whole lot of extra cash lying around to put two kids through college. It means a lot to me that there’s people out there who are willing to make a difference by helping us with college to better ourselves. Thank you all so much.”
Another student, Kaylie Williams of Waltonville, added, “When I decided to go into this major, I knew that whatever area I chose, I would hope that I could make a difference and make an impact. As we all know, women are a minority in the criminal justice field and I see this as a challenge and I’m honored to be given this opportunity. I would like to thank the donors for their generosity.”
Keaton Hawk of Pinckneyville, concluded the student speakers with more words of thanks. He said, “Thank you everyone for coming out. It means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to my peers. This line of work has always been something natural that I’ve fallen into, and I love this line of work. Thank you and without your help, I don’t think we could go anywhere, because you make everything go around.”
Next on stage were two donors representing local businesses wanting to give back. As they have done in previous years, the Jefferson County State’s Attorney’s office made a $1,000 donation out of the Drug Forfeiture Fund. The fund is comprised of money seized from criminals and is utilized for training in the county. Blake Jennings, Assistant State’s Attorney, spoke on behalf of States Attorney Sean Featherstun when presenting the donation.
“It’s a really neat idea that the money taken from crime can be later used to, indirectly, fight crime. I thank you for having me here and I know we’re happy to be able to help your program, because it’s a great program. It’s a very noble undertaking to pursue a career in law enforcement and I applaud you,” said Jennings. “As somebody who has benefitted from scholarships myself, I know there’s never enough to go around and the scholarships you do get, there’s never enough to go around, so I wish you all the best of luck.”
Similarly, Darrel Mays, owner of Darrel Mays Agency Inc., made a $750 donation thanks in-part to a matching-funds program through parent company American Family Insurance.
“I get to work with a lot of police officers, and I’ve seen a lot of good character come out of this program. We have the opportunity to have American Family Insurance match some of our money, and we’re able to get them to do that. We’re just happy to help, and thank you all,” said Mays.
Two local professionals also shared the stage to offer words of advice. Chief Trent Page of the Mt. Vernon Police Department stressed the importance of training hard and upholding integrity.
“We’re so supportive of this program, because it excels. When you look at the program, it stands apart. We have seen this program grow over the last few years and really become something. We get lots of calls from people who need assistance for this and that, but it’s always a ‘yes’ for Mr. Meek,” said Page. “The training you are getting is what we’re seeing at police academies. Its scenario-based training and the instructors know what to do. They’ve been in this industry and that makes a huge difference. You have a tremendous resource here.”
He continued, “This is a beginning point. The foundation you’re laying is important. Even at 18 or 19, your decisions make a huge impact upon you. You must have your integrity from the beginning. I challenge each of you – know what you’re getting into. Know that as you build your foundation and move forward. What they can’t take from you is your personal pride and how you do the job. I would like to congratulate the recipients here today.”
Judge Jerry Crisel of the Second Judicial Circuit echoed Page’s advice on integrity, and added an uplifting sentiment.
“I have so much respect for this program. Your profession is a noble profession. I see police officers every day; worked with them. You must always maintain your credibility and integrity, no matter what. It has long lasting, positive effects if you’re a police officer with integrity. It carries a lot of weight,” said Crisel. “Remember that the profession of a peace officer is vital to the function of our system, our country. There are many things that are vital there. As peace officers, you’re helping to perpetuate the finest system in the world. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is the finest. I have nothing but the highest respect for the recipients and students, the faculty and administration.”
Two RLC administrators also thanked the donors and offered words of encouragement to the students. President Terry Wilkerson focused on the connections being made across the room.
“This is an honorable and meaningful way of life and profession, so don’t let anyone take that away. Always keep that in mind and conduct yourself in that fashion,” said Wilkerson. “Take some time tonight to connect with these folks. They’re getting their wallets out to support you, but they’re also giving you their time. That time is important, because it’s not always who you know, but who knows you. Make those connections with folks and your classmates, because this is just the beginning.”
Focusing on the donors, Gabriele Farner, RLC Dean of Applied Science and Advanced Technology, spoke about the return on investment she and the Criminal Justice faculty expect out of the students and graduates.
“We have three instructors who have almost 70 years of experience in criminal justice. That doesn’t even count for their teaching experience on top of that. They demand discipline and respect of the students in the program, and that is something modeled by everyone,” said Farner. “When they’re coming here, they’re getting a great return on investment.”
To learn more about RLC’s Criminal Justice program, visit www.rlc.edu/criminal-justice, or contact Meek at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1239 or .