Kelsey’s Steak House had a special guest staff for dinner Thursday night. Officers from the Valparaiso Police Department poured drinks, served desserts, and collected tip money for their 7th grade G.R.E.A.T. program.
The Tip a Cop fundraiser pays for 500 students to attend Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) every year.
G.R.E.A.T. teaches students the life skills that will keep them away from gangs, drugs, and other crimes. It is a 12-week course, taught by School Resource Officer Terry Cox. Each lesson expands on a new concept, like peer pressure or how to set goals. Students who graduate are rewarded with a huge party at the end of the year.
“Especially right now, with how things are between police and the rest of society, I think it is awesome that kids can come over and talk to me and see that I am not the enemy,” said Officer Cox. "Police are people too. We’re building a relationship with the community.”
To keep the program funded, the department volunteers together one night a year to work a shift at Kelsey’s.
“I think it’s a great program we have,” said Patrol Officer Michelle Kodicek. She has volunteered for ten out of the twelve Tip a Cop events the department has had since 2005.
“It’s teaching our young children that gangs aren’t the way to go, that there are other things you can do to go out and feel included. Tip a Cop lets the people come out and support us, support them, and allows us to meet the community at the same time,” she said.
Kodicek and her fellow officers each shadow a Kelsey’s server as they wait on tables. They help deliver orders and they talk to guests about what the G.R.E.A.T. program is doing for Valparaiso schools.
“We look forward to it every year,” said Kelsey’s owner Peggy Hood. “It’s something everyone who works here enjoys, it’s fun for the community, and the police enjoy doing it.”
Her Social Media Coordinator, Jesus Torres, agreed. “Sometimes we give donations but it’s events like this that get people involved. We’re a family oriented restaurant so it is important for us to contribute like this to the community. Kelsey’s is always looking to partner with companies that can help us help the community.”
At the end of their meal, restaurant patrons can leave a tip that will keep local 7th graders on a safe and successful life path.
Guests Caitlyn and Hannah Fields went through the G.R.E.A.T. program at Benjamin Franklin Middle School, and their younger sister will be attending next year.
“It’s a really great opportunity for kids to have fun but at the same time learn about the things that are really important in life,” said Hannah Fields, 8th grade. “I think [Tip a Cop night] is a really good idea. We have a great police force, that gets out here and helps any way they can.”
The officers appreciated Kelsey’s continued support of their program and were excited to help their staff.
“They’re the backbone of our community,” said Kelsey’s new General Manager, Justin Oettinger. “They are always there for us. This is our way of giving back.”
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