PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — After 21 years with the Peoria Park District, Carl Cannon officially retired from the district Wednesday morning. It’s an entity he’s been a part of since 2001.
Cannon, a former prison guard, said the behavior of high schoolers used to be ‘off the chain’ two decades ago, which led to his former youth outreach program called C.H.O.I.C.E.S.
He said the name was an acronym for Can’t Have Our Independent Choices Endangering Society.
“I went to the work release center and got some people that had been there done that, regret that, that used to be that generation and I said ‘you help me stop them from doing what you did’,” Cannon said. “Who better to look for Boo Boo the Fool than who used to be the fool.”
He said Peoria leaders saw the success of that and asked if he would implement it on a higher scale, and thus his ELITE Youth Outreach Program was born in 2005-2006.
“We want to help kids and it doesn’t matter what color, gender, we want to help,” Cannon said.
Cannon said the program has evolved and helped more than 1600 students including students with behavioral problems. He said they’ve also given many people re-entry opportunities under the ELITE umbrella.
Although Cannon will no longer be an employee of the district, he said his Elite Youth Outreach program will still live on as a not-for-profit stationed inside the Peoria Dream Center.
“About 30 days ago, we became an independent non-for-profit, and we have a board, executive team and we have a school right here in Peoria,” Cannon said.
He said they’ll continue working with the park district and Peoria Public schools. He said they’ll also bring leaders in from other cities to look at the success of ELITE in an effort to expand it to other areas outside of Peoria.
“We’re going to document it, we’re going to invite them in to see for themselves it’s not hype, it’s data driven, and the show them how they can do it in their own communities,” Cannon said.