South Boston Police Officer, Ex-Gang Member Work Together to Stop Bullying
By Whitney Delbridge
Halifax Co., VA - An unlikely duo has joined forces in Halifax County to educate kids on the effects of bullying and bad decision-making.It all started with Sergeant Tim VanAernem speaking to local students about staying on the right path, but he felt something was missing: ex-gang member Everett Thomas."We felt that it would be advantageous to our community and to our kids to bring Everett in and kind of explain his life and the choices he made," VanAernem said.Thomas is no stranger to the wrong path. When he was 13 years old, his mother was brutally murdered and his life changed forever."The world I knew it was over. The loving, cherishing, nourishing part of my life, it was over, " Thomas said.He fell into a life of crime, ultimately spending 8 years in prison."I just got a point where I just realized it was me making these choices - bad choices - and I'm the one that had to be accountable for them, " Thomas said.Thomas eventually turned his life around. He now owns his own trucking company, and he spends his spare time making sure our local kids don't make the mistakes he made."I just done so much wrong in Halifax County...I'm doing right now. When I lay my head down at night, I know I'm doing something positive, " said Thomas.The two men formed the group Choices 180. They say the outreach group is made possible by several supporters and sponsors who work behind the scenes.They visit middle school students to talk about bullying and peer pressure, and they hope to connect with high schoolers soon.VanAernem says it's all about stopping destructive behavior before it starts."If we can save one then we've done our job, but we want to try to save as many as we can, " VanAernem said.In October, the group will hold a gospel singing competition at Halifax County High School. On November 29th, they will organize an alumni basketball tournament/3-point contest, also at the high school. Proceeds from the events will go towards funding their community outreach efforts.For more information on upcoming events, go to https://www.facebook.com/everett.thomas.374.
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