About three years ago, Hazellief and Captain Robert Coleman went over to Clewiston High School where they had a successful program already in place. There, they spoke to Christine Peterson.
“That lady is amazing, literally amazing,” said Hazellief. She is retired law enforcement and is the mayor of Clewiston. She put her program into place 20 or more years ago, and OCSO has at least one of her graduations working for them. It took a while to figure out all the red tape and to get the financial backing they needed, but finally, this January, they were ready to begin.
The program was made possible by a grant obtained by the Education Foundation of Okeechobee. The grant allowed them to purchase a 911 simulator which gives students the opportunity to practice taking 911 calls and putting them into the computer-aided dispatch system.
“Of course, we had no question as to who we wanted to run the program,” said Hazellief. Coordinator for Emergency Communications Tech Services Mary Royce Lookabill heads up the new program. “Basically, we just said to her, ‘Hey, we’re having a new program. Do you mind teaching it?’ She said yes, and it was just, ‘OK go!’ She was on her own to find the curriculum she wanted to use and everything else that needed to be done.”
Lookabill currently has five students who will be eligible to take their industry certification in 911 Public Safety Telecommunications test by the end of this school year.
“This will give them a head start in obtaining a job in the field. These students will be learning in the classroom, visiting communications centers in the area, and hearing from professionals in the public safety field throughout this semester,” said Lookabill. “Once they graduate, they will be ready to apply for a job,” she explained. “They don’t have to head off to an academy first.”
"I am very excited to be a part of this program and molding the future of 911 and our agency. I can't thank Sheriff Stephen and the Education Foundation of Okeechobee enough for opening doors for Okeechobee's young people", said Lookabill.
Not only did the grant obtained by the Education Foundation allow them to begin the communications program, but it also helped them start their cadet program. That program began in October for teens age 14 and older who are interested in a career in any public safety field. These teens have already made their mark in Okeechobee, participating in Wreaths Across America, the Christmas Parade, the Health and Safety Expo and many other events.
The Okeechobee County Fire Rescue was able to start their own program as well — a high school fire academy. This class has already experienced things most teens never get to see and do.
A representative of the Education Foundation said, “Remember, our journey isn’t over; we're just getting started and will continue to expand and evolve these programs. Here's to the ongoing collaboration and the incredible path ahead for Okeechobee's future public safety heroes!”