Pasadena Police "Officer of the Year" Aims to Build Students' Confidence One Backpack at a Time

Published : Sunday, August 11, 2019 | 8:41 PM

Pasadena Police Park Safety Specialist Michelle White  – named the Department’s “Officer of the Year” even though, strictly speaking, she is not a sworn officer -  believes a new backpack filled with school supplies and a stylish new haircut can put a kid on top of the world.

So White started a non-profit organization called Neighborhood Survants to give young students the tools she says are critical for starting off the year on the right foot.

Neighborhood Survants held its First Annual Back 2 School Explosion on Sunday, Aug. 11 at the Robinson Park Recreation Center in Pasadena.

“People asked me, ‘Do you know anyone giving out backpacks this year?’ and I thought, ‘I guess that will be me,’” White recalled. “The program is so needed. It’s one of the things that when a parent prepares kids to go back to school, it can be a financial burden on a family that can’t afford it.”

There’s nothing like the feeling of being totally ready for the oncoming year, White said. She knows — she’s a foster mom raising kids of her own.

“Kids starting off school with all the equipment they can have, it starts the year off great for them,” she said. “The first day with all the excitement to be able to go in with a fresh haircut, and a backpack full of supplies, it’s really needed. ”

There were hairstylists on hand to help everyone get groomed. And the parents of those kids alsp came away with valuable information.

“We’re doing haircuts, and braids for the girls, and on top of them being able to get a haircut and a backpack we have a parent symposium,” White said. “We can answer ‘How do I get my kid into an after school program?’ or ‘What if my kid is being bullied?’ or ‘What resources are available?’ We’re going to supply kids with a haircut and a backpack full of equipment and give the parents empowering information and resources.”

Any extra backpacks will get to additional kids, she said.

“Extra backpacks if we have any, we will take to local high school and elementary school,” she said. “We’ll bring them to the principals and they’ll be able to give the kids a backpack and parent information will be in the backpack as well.”

The event was open to Pasadena and Altadena kids.

How did White obtain the support for the new program?

“We’ve received local donations, and I’ve spent out of pocket. We’re always looking for more donations,” she said.

And while there are volunteers, it’s the kids who will fill their own backpacks during the event.

“We’re going to let them go from table to table,” White said. “The experience is to go from table to table and we’ll have food as well. You get your hair cut, you get a backpack, eat, and enjoy your day.”

Over the years White has built bridges. She is a non-sworn Pasadena officer, which means she has no gun. She is the first non-sworn officer to be named Officer of the Year by the Pasadena Police Foundation.

She said her work as a Park Safety Specialist has enabled her to be directly involved with the community in important ways.

“I don’t carry a gun so it’s easier to have a conversation with people,” she said. “I use the trust I’ve built for 18 years to build bridges.”

The mother of six said she answers to a higher calling with her foundation.

“God has given me the vision to do the work,” she said. “I believe we do better together. As a community, if we all come together for the same common goal, we send a bigger message together.”

She said understanding is about education and that learning can help people come together.

“We have to educate more people about our roles,” she said. “We need to understand why we each do what we do, so we learn about each other. Let me learn to understand you and let me put you in my role, and let me learn about you. Teach me what it’s like to grow up in poverty. I hear, ‘My mom didn’t have any money’ or ‘My dad is incarcerated.’ Maybe that can give understanding on why people don’t like the police.”
“In the world you will see that the more we educate there will be understanding. Understanding goes a long way.”

White said she credits the support of Pasadena Unified, Pasadena City College, City Councilmember John Kennedy, the City of Pasadena, as well as faith-based organizations, Muslims for Humanity, the Pasadena Fire Department, motorcycle and car clubs and the volunteers.

“It’s a community effort,” she said. “We bridge the gap and move together for an understanding. The common goal is community.”

For more information call (626) 483-0401 or email


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