IMMOKALEE — It has been one year since the community suffered the tragic loss of FWC Officer Julian Keen, who was shot and killed while trying to intervene with a reckless driver. Keen was off duty at the time.
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office plans to remember the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officer through The Julian Keen Foundation, and their new youth program that will build on Keen's legacy in Immokalee. The details surrounding the new youth program were announced at 2:30 p.m. on June 14, 2021.
“In an effort to promote positive awareness of law enforcement in underserved areas, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, the Julian Lee Keen Foundation and Collier County Public Schools have partnered in a new youth mentoring program in Immokalee,” the Collier County Sheriff’s Office announced around 3:00 p.m. on Monday, June 14, 2021. “The Julian Lee Keen Cadets Mentorship Program will launch its first recruitment of student candidates from Immokalee Middle School. The program will help the students prepare for entering the CCSO Cadets and Explorer programs.”
The program is named for the late Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officer Julian Lee Keen who was originally from Immokalee and whose kindness and generosity were widely known throughout Southwest Florida. Officer Keen, 30, was fatally shot June 14, 2020, in Hendry County after he followed a driver who had left the scene of a crash.
At a joint news conference Monday, the first anniversary of Officer Keen’s death, Undersheriff James Bloom announced the initiative joined by Officer Keen’s family members and representatives from the JLK Foundation, School District, and FWC.
“The Collier County Sheriff’s Office is proud to partner in this positive and proactive program that honors Officer Julian Keen by building upon his legacy mentoring young people in his hometown of Immokalee,’’ Undersheriff Bloom said. “This is a great opportunity to form a bond with Immokalee’s young people, the impact of which will last a lifetime.”
The JLK Foundation approached CCSO with the idea of teaming up in a mentoring program that would reach young people like Officer Keen who prior to his death had been a mentor in Hendry County.
“It’s no secret that people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, races, genders, communities, and counties, loved Officer Julian Lee Keen Jr.,” said attorney Melissa Barris, who serves as an honorary member of the JLK Foundation Board. “Officer Keen truly was our small-town hero. No matter what capacity you'd met Julian in, you'd be sure to remember was his smile. Although his life was taken too soon, we truly believe that Officer Keen left an indelible mark but also a mission to complete.’’
When the new school year begins in August, the School District will welcome the Julian Keen Foundation to start mentoring students on the campus of Immokalee Middle School, with the plan to expand to even more students and campuses in the years to come.
“Collier County Public Schools is proud to partner with the Julian Keen Foundation and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to provide additional mentorship opportunities for students,” said Dr. Tammy Caraker, CCPS Associate Superintendent for School and District Operations. “Officer Keen’s special gift of connecting with the community will live on through this initiative.”
JLK Foundation member Debbie Wright Prashad said the mentoring program was founded on the principle in which trust and respect are the foundation of all interactions between young men and women and law enforcement.
“Our goal is to instill these core values while providing essential support for boys and girls to broaden their horizons through leadership training; science, technology, engineering and mathematics activities; direct personable encounters with law enforcement, first responders and teachers; entrepreneurs; and athletics,” Wright Prashad said. “Candidates will be provided with many opportunities to broaden their horizon through educational, vocational and recreational activities.’’
Five incoming six-graders at Immokalee Middle School have been selected for the program by the Julian Lee Keen Cadets Mentorship Program Advisory Board. CCSO Youth Relations deputies, teachers from Immokalee Technical College, and firefighters from Immokalee Fire department will meet with the Julian Lee Keen Cadets at least twice a month.
The program will run through the school fiscal year and will prepare the students for the CCSO Cadet (ages 10-13) program. The goal is to have the students graduate from the Explorer (ages 14-18) program during their final year of high school.
“Our mission is for the Julian Lee Keen Cadets to have direct guidance from our law enforcement in hopes that the experience will provide them with opportunities for college scholarships,” Wright Prashad said.
Said Barris: “The Julian Lee Keen Foundation will play a pivotal role in the transformation of our perception of young boys and girls. And we will also show how we together, can transcend and evolve as one community. This was Officer Julian Keen’s mission. This is why he was called a hero and, and a hero never dies and neither does his mission.’’