Officer Gregory Stokes searched for 18 students who hadn't made contact with their teachers since the transition to online learning.
Ormond Beach Police Officer Gregory Stokes views his role as Ormond Beach Middle School's resource officer as multipurpose.
When the students need a mentor, he becomes that mentor. When the students need a friendly face, he's ready to show them kindness. When the students need a police officer, he's there to resolve the issue.
While on patrol, officers wear multiple hats.
“I do the same there,” Stokes said.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, his role evolved to include the delivery of school work packets to students OBMS staff had not been able to get a hold of. A total of 18 students had not been in contact with their teachers since schools transitioned to online learning. Ormond Beach City Commissioner and OBMS Assistant Principal said at the May 12 commission meeting that phone calls and emails to these students weren't being answered.
Kent spoke with City Manager Joyce Shanahan about these students, and the idea of having Stokes deliver the packets, along with school supplies, and perform a well-being check came to fruition. Once Ormond Beach Police Chief Jesse Godfrey gave approval, Stokes was officially on the mission.
“He went above and above and beyond the call of duty because he is a fine human being," Kent said.
OBMS principal Susan Tuten said in an email that she "deeply appreciates" the efforts of the city and OBPD. She was the one to approach Kent about having Stokes deliver the packets, and Tuten said Kent jumped on the phone to make it happen.
"I have a great team that does whatever it takes to ensure our students succeed," Tuten said.
Delivering the packets
For several days, Stokes went around Volusia County to deliver the packets to these students.
“And in those situations, if the school didn’t have their addresses on file, the change of address, then there was no way for me to find them," Stokes said. "I would do as much as I could and try to track them down.”
He looked for students in other cities and in hotels. He looked up prior addresses, change of addresses on driver's licenses and spoke to neighbors. Sometimes, if he was positive the family still lived in the home but was unable to make contact with a parent, he'd leave the packet on the door. On one occasion, he left the packet with a neighbor who said they were still in contact with the family. There were only a couple students he was unable to find.
The parents he was able to speak to directly were thankful and "ecstatic," Stokes said. Many of them lacked the transportation to retrieve the packets on their own.
Many people may not be aware that there are homeless students and students living in hotels and motels who attend OBMS, Stokes said. He delivered a packet to a family of eight people living in one hotel room. Seeing things like that makes him emotional; Stokes said it brings the concept of homeless students to reality. He finds himself worrying about what could happen to them with the world in its current state.
That's the police officer side of him, he said.
Not just a law enforcement officer
As a former D.A.R.E. and outreach officer, Stokes said he would do anything to help students.
“Kids are where my heart is," Stokes said.
Part of his job has always been to to build a rapport with them so they don't grow up fearing law enforcement, he explained. He has bought lunch for students in the past and works to be approachable. He wants them to feel safe coming to him if they have a problem. Though he is back on patrol as schools remain closed due to the coronavirus, delivering packets was just another hat for him to wear.
“To me, as a school resource officer, you can’t just be a police officer," Stokes said. "Like a glass of water, water finds its own form, so you’ve got to be fluid and adapt to whatever the situation is. Be what you need to be to get through that situation and reach that kid, or to get that objective done.”