It's graduation day for an elite group of Peoria teens.
The 14 young men are part of the Peoria Park District's inaugural ELITE/Design Summer Camp. The program identified teens within the juvenile court system who were also at high risk of joining a local gang. All completed a six-week course focused on leadership and community service.
The Peoria Park District's Carl Cannon founded ELITE. He said today's ceremony is more than a graduation. It's a promotion to making goals and keeping them.
"We went through extensive sessions on gang free life. That includes peer pressure, bullying, conflict resolution, self-sabotaging behavior," Cannon said.
Cannon had each participant recite three ways to stay out of poverty:
- Earn a high school diploma.
- Get and keep a job.
- Don't become a father before age 21.
U.S. District Court Judge Joe Billy McDade encouraged the teens to support each other to stay on the right side of the law.
"I want them to know that I care about them, even though my role requires me to judge them. I care enough about them that I want them to choose the right path and do the right things, and contribute to the community," McDade said.
McDade hung a medal around each teenager's neck and encouraged the graduates of the program to stay focused and "keep up the good work."