The Gang Resistance Education and Training program debuted nationally in 1992, and police Sgt. Stephen Naughton brought it to Philadelphia the following year.
Since a successful pilot program in Phoenix, GREAT has been in classrooms in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and other nations.
Law enforcement officials teach the program in elementary and middle schools. Students are encouraged to ignore peer pressure and avoid delinquent behavior, youth violence and gang membership.
Among the schools that recently welcomed the GREAT program is Gen. J. Harry LaBrum Middle School, at 10800 Hawley Road in the Far Northeast.
A Naughton protégé, police officer Gerri Doherty, spent 13 weeks with the LaBrum sixth-graders. In appreciation, the students wanted to do something to honor the memory of Naughton, a married father of two who died last year.
The kids in Rooms 601 and 602 created a cloth quilt for Karen Naughton, his widow. Each student designed a square, and they were tied together with ribbons.
Many of the squares featured pictures of the sergeant, including a wedding photo in a heart. There were also squares that displayed his badge number, a police patrol car, an angel, student signatures and the messages, “You are Our Hero” and “In Loving Memory of Sgt. Stephen Naughton.”
The youngsters recently presented Karen Naughton with the quilt.
“The quilt is beautiful,” she said. “I’ve got a place for it over my sofa in the family room.”
Naughton, 55, a 31-year police veteran from Andorra, died last May when he had a heart attack while driving on Kelly Drive. The vehicle plunged into the Schuylkill River, and Naughton drowned, despite rescue attempts by several citizens.
“His compassion and his dedication is living on in you,” Mrs. Naughton told the children.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey was unable to attend the Feb. 8 ceremony, as scheduled, but the department was represented by Inspector John Heath, commander of the Northeast Police Division, and Capt. Dennis Gallagher, commander of the community relations unit, which oversees GREAT.
“Steve spent an unbelievable amount of time traveling. It was a dedication. It was something he loved to do,” said Gallagher, who worked with Naughton for about a decade.
Students Princess Ellis, Samantha Naphys, Kayla Clegg and James Rutter were presented with medals for winning a GREAT essay contest. Kali Rogers, Jasmine Scott and Jasmine Martinez sung, while Marilynn Johns, Jamie O’Connor, Victoria Chima and Renee Samarco danced.
“It was a wonderful tribute to my husband,” said Karen Naughton, who was joined by her husband’s sister, Teresa.
Naughton said her husband was committed to GREAT.
“It meant the world to him,” she said. “He really dedicated a lot of time to it. He brought it to Philadelphia and traveled around the country promoting it to other departments. I think he was the longest-serving person in the GREAT program.”
Indeed, according to a tribute on the organization’s Web site home page, Naughton was the longest-serving member of the GREAT National Training Committee. He was the administrator for a region that stretched from Virginia to Maine.
“The GREAT program was his second family,” said police officer Stephanie Velazquez, of the community relations unit. “He did a phenomenal job of bringing the GREAT program here.”
GREAT seeks to improve a young person’s decision-making, anger management and conflict resolution skills.
Doherty spent 45 minutes each Wednesday with the LaBrum kids. The curriculum is a mix of lectures, a lesson book and a video.
“We sit down and explain that there is a link between drugs, violence and crime that can affect their future,” Doherty said.
Doherty credited teachers Jamie Helverson and Brian Marr, principal Bill Griffin, assistant principal Andrea Miller and the Home and School Association with welcoming the program.
“We got a lot of support from the teachers and staff,” she said.
The students, who created a second quilt for the school lobby, all received certificates and munched on goodies. Their parents were on hand to cheer their efforts.
Doherty has moved on to teach a six-week course to elementary school students at Kennedy Crossan in Burholme, St. Matthew in Mayfair and Thomas Finletter in Olney. ••