|Cecil Whiteaker , Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department|
Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department
This Army veteran has transferred his skill from shepherding new recruits to mentoring younger employees and counseling inmates in a sheriff’s department.
Capt. Cecil Whiteaker, 63, joined a sheriff’s department in 1991 with 20 years of experience in the U.S. Army, including two tours of duty in Vietnam, one in Korea and seven years in Germany. “I’ve considered myself a mentor for some time,” he says. “In Vietnam, sometimes you were the `old man’ at 21. As I progressed in rank and position in the military, I often found myself in that role.”
He retired from active duty in 1986 and worked as a patrol officer for a police department near Atlanta, then served as a counselor for patients with mental illness and substance abuse disorders at a mental health hospital before landing in the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department in Lawrenceville, Ga.
The department values experienced workers as mentors to younger staff members – a quality earned it an Encore Opportunity Award in 2009. Whiteaker, who coordinates the department’s training programs, says he enjoys this unwritten, informal part of his job, explaining, “To me, mentoring means trying to do your best to see that people have the best job knowledge and people skills that you can give them so that someday they will pass those skills on to someone else.”
One of his protégés, Deputy Trenell Bullock, 33, says Whiteaker has enriched his understanding of law enforcement with a positive attitude and constructive feedback. “Having a mentor is important in the work that I do,” he says.
Whiteaker is valued as a mentor to inmates, too. “Most inmates are under 30 and recognize that a person 50-plus has a lot of life experience and has been exposed to a lot of life’s problems,” says Chief Deputy Mike Boyd. “That same inmate will not seek out that type of advice and counseling from a deputy much younger, who may be their own age.”
There are other benefits from having a multigenerational work force. Whiteaker explains, “I find myself working with baby boomers, Xs, Ys and some Zs. I feel those 50 and older bring the work ethic to the department. They work hard and do a good job. Their life experience often influences the younger generation to strive a little harder. I see more change and acceptance of the older workers by the younger workers the longer they work closely together. I see some attitudes of the older workers change once they get to know and understand the younger workers. It works both ways.”
It’s a support system that paid off for Whiteaker in a personal way when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. “It took some time, but with an excellent treatment team and the care and love from my families – my wife and children and my ‘blue family’ (law enforcement) – I came back.”
He is, he says, “a survivor” who looks forward to continuing to help others. “My combination of military, law enforcement and hospital experience has been invaluable in my current job. I have had a great life and would not trade any of my experiences for anything.”
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