Serving and protecting their communities may one day be a career for a group of Criminal Justice students at Sampson Community College, but for now they have aspired to make a difference in the community in other ways through the formation of a club designed to build bonds as students while making a local impact.
Jennifer MacNeil, an instructor within SCC’s Criminal Justice Program, started the club this semester and it now serves as adviser to the student-run organization. To kick off the program, in lieu of dues, MacNeil and her Criminal Justice students sought to assist the Sampson County Animal Shelter.
Over the last several weeks, students have collected 520 pounds of food, including 500 pounds of dry food, 20 pounds of wet and various treats to donate to the shelter. The club also collected about 60 pounds of kitty litter.
“Our goal was to collect 300 pounds, and now we have over 500,” said MacNeil, who served for eight years in Probation and Parole with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety before going to the academic side of the criminal justice process. “Instead of collecting dues, we decided to give back to the community and we thought about what we could donate. We wanted to give something back. We decided to do this for the animal shelter.”
Jamie Vancil, a Criminal Justice student who volunteers at the shelter, talked with animal shelter assistant Anna Ellis before bringing the idea back to the club’s members, who were happy to move forward with it. “They’re pretty excited about this,” Vancil said of shelter staff.
“We’re all pet people,” MacNeil said, “so it was a good project.”
Wendy Santivanez is the president of the Criminal Justice Club, while Deion Wells was voted the club’s vice president.
“I’m excited,” said Santivanez. “I know we’re doing something for the community and something to help (the animal shelter) out. I hope we can continue to do these kinds of things.”
MacNeil said the club has as its goal to promote togetherness and community outreach. While she anticipates fun bonding activities such as paintball and a movie night, the teamwork will also manifest itself in donations toward valuable community entities. MacNeil said she hopes U Care will be next on the list for the club.
Like Santivanez, Wells said he was glad to be a part of a group that not only promoted a SCC department of which he is a part, but to do so in a way that benefits others.
“It’s exciting,” said Wells. “Instead of doing (club) dues, I’m glad we’re doing this project and I hope in the future we have more projects like this.”
Students in Sampson Community College’s Criminal Justice Program are studying to obtain their two-year associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. As part of the curriculum, they study local, state and federal law enforcement, judicial processes, corrections and security services touching on criminology, juvenile justice, criminal and constitutional law, investigative principles, ethics and community relations.
Following completion of the degree, some students go on to four-year schools, while others complement their studies with Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) and go into any variety of law enforcement capacities. Among a variety of occupations, graduates go on to serve as police officers, deputy sheriffs, detention officers, state troopers, probation and parole officers, correctional officers and loss prevention specialists.
While there have been similar Criminal Justice clubs in the past at SCC, such extracurricular efforts fell apart amid a stretched instruction staff handling both BLET and the college’s Criminal Justice Program. However, when MacNeil arrived last semester, she wanted to see such a club reorganized — that happened this semester.
Elections were held recently and, along with Santivanez and Wells, other officers of the Criminal Justice Club include secretary Mercedes Pariseau and treasurer Jessica Hines. Other student members include Vancil, Lindsay Hatcher and Janet Pineda.
“These are all good students,” said Darrell Manuel, Criminal Justice instructor and department chairman. “Some will go on to a four-year college, some will go on to law enforcement careers.”
In the meantime, the formation of the club and students’ involvement in it, serving a larger purpose in imparting a team mentality regardless of the career path students ultimately choose, Manuel noted.
“It gives them a sense of belonging to something and gives them something to participate in. They have control of it,” said Manuel, a retired U.S. Marshal and U.S. Naval officer with nearly three decades of law enforcement experience at the local, state and federal levels. “It lets them do something other than just come to class and do homework. They can look back and say that they helped establish programs and help the community, and also got involved in a lot of activities with their classmates.”
MacNeil said the club has as its goal to instill in students the sense of something greater than themselves, traits that will serve them down the line, especially in any variety of law enforcement fields.
“The students are together and they are a family,” MacNeil said. “We’re a family in the field one day, so we want to become a family here. Teamwork is so important in the field. It’s imperative. All we have is each other and this teaches them teamwork and camaraderie early on.”
The networking that occurs during that process can also assist with future job opportunities.
“It’s a good opportunity and certainly is a way to make connections in the community,” said MacNeil. “It gets our name out there and also allows students to get their name out there.”
The animal shelter was the first project of many, she said.
“Good things happen in small places,” said MacNeil, “and this is it.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.