Organizer of CHARACTER COUNTS! Jamboree reflects on 14 years of promoting good character

The city of San Clemente, Calif., celebrated CC! Week early this year, with its annual CHARACTER COUNTS! Jamboree in early October. The Jamboree is a project of the City of San Clemnte, the Orange County sheriff’s department, and the Capistrano Unified School District. We caught up with Leslie Mowers, the Jamboree’s organizer, to find out what’s new at this long-standing community event.

The Jamboree features performances, food, and around 90 booths staffed by schools and community organizations. What were some of the most popular events or activities at the Jamboree this year?

We had compliments on all of the performances.  People especially like the high school’s dance team.  They have won many awards and are great mentors for all kids.

Talk about this year’s theme. Were there any new features, events, or other changes this year?

This year I wanted to go patriotic (Celebrate America!).  We are very close to the Marines since Camp Pendleton is right next door.  And with the 9/11 ten-year anniversary, it was a great fit.   We added our high school’s marching band and the cheerleaders which gave it a great hometown closeness.   We handed out small American flags for children to wave after the national anthem.  Speaking of the anthem, I always seek out a high school student to sing.  Since this is a kids’ fair, I want younger people involved as much as possible.  Olivia Duncan was amazing…gave all of us goose bumps!

How do you use the Jamboree to communicate messages about the importance of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship as important parts of kids’ lives?

I tell all of the volunteers who have a booth that they can promote their business, but to remember that this is about the kids.  They are to somehow work one of the Pillars (or all of them) into their booth theme.  I put up CC! posters and banners throughout the fair.  The fair is run by the high school CC! Club. During announcements, I ask everyone stop what they are doing and show respect as we listen to the national anthem.  At the end of the fair, I ask people to please be responsible and caring and pick up and trash, even if it is not their trash.

You are a crime prevention specialist with Orange County’s Sheriff’s Department. How do you feel that CC! in general and the Fair in particular help to prevent crime?

We believe if we start mentoring children early enough and consistently teach them about the Six Pillars of Character, doing the right thing, and treating others as they would like to be treated, we will make an impact on kids’ choices.  And, I hope along the way we pick up some adults and maybe they will think about the choices they make, especially when kids are around.  If kids have good character, they will make better choices and not become involved in crime.

The Jamboree has been going since 1997. What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

To make changes in the schools, you need the support of the upper administration.  It needs to start at the top, or things can fall apart later on.  You also need to occasionally reinforce training, support, make new contacts, keep looking for sponsors, and find a mentor for yourself!

What advice do you have for others who are trying to collaborate across institutional barriers – i.e. schools working with sheriff’s department, working with city government?

Good luck!  The larger the agency, the harder it is to get in.   More people who do not know each other means less closeness – especially dealing with government.  With a City Council it is easy.  But County government – ugh.

The CC! training seminar is the first step – you have to have that training.  Then, find an influential person in the agency to help you get your foot in the door.  Come prepared!

What “take-away” message do you want all Jamboree attendees – adults and kids – to go home with?

Everyone can improve their character.  Everyone is a mentor to any child they interact with or contact.  And it can be fun and very rewarding.

Thanks, Leslie!

Images: (top) The San Clemente High School marching band, with a young fan. (middle) The San Clemente CHARACTER COUNTS! Club booth. Photos courtesy of Leslie Mowers.

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