After her five older siblings started using drugs as teenagers, Katherine Comesana said it was police officers and firefighters who helped her find healthier "addictions," and she become involved in sports and horseback riding.
It was thanks to these public servants, Comesana said, that she was able to stay away from trouble, and as an adult she became a police officer herself, and then a school resource officer.
This week, the Challenge Team honored Officer Comesana, 37, for being a "Champion for Youth" -- a role model to the community's next generation.
Each year the Challenge Team, a group of local leaders who meet monthly to discuss problems facing at-risk students, picks a person or people to honor for their important work with local youth. This year the group recognized Comesana and fellow police Officer Marco Garcia during a breakfast on May 13. (A profile on Garcia will run in next week's Voice.)
As part of her job, Comesana visits local campuses every day and also teaches D.A.R.E. classes. A single mom with two teenage kids, she said the time at local schools helps her to identify students who may need more attention.
She then brings these students to the Mountain View Police Activities League, a program that pairs at-risk children with cops to play sports, and enrolls them in Dreams and Futures, a PAL summer camp.
Comesana also volunteers on her day off with Parent Project, designed to help parents with their out of control teens. These days she is helping students train for a mini-triathlon and takes students to ride her three horses in Cupertino.
"If they don't have stress releasers, they are going to turn to substance abuse," Comesana said of at-risk youth.
"It's important for these kids to have a role model."
On Tuesday morning, as the brunch bell rings at Graham Middle School, students migrate toward Comesana. She exchanges greetings with some of the boys, and one girl tells Comesana how much she has missed her.
"It's almost like I have 1,800 kids," Comesana said as the students rush over.
As a school resource officer, Comesana takes part in several local task forces, oversees six schools and assists with patrolling. But she still makes time to hang out with students on their campuses during lunch.
This is where she is able to build relationships with them, she says.
Comesana said she recently was called to one of the elementary schools to talk to a second grader who was caught stealing candy from the principal's desk. Comesana is now going to start mentoring the girl, and says sometimes students get in trouble just because they need more attention.
"As parents we can't turn our backs on children," she said. "Why do you think they are acting out?"
Sometimes, Comesana said, she will pick up a group of these students and take them to lunch, but most of the mentoring occurs on the weekend or after her 10-hour shift ends at 4 p.m.
"I have some kids who call me mommy," Comesana said. "I wish I had a bigger house and could bring them home."
Comesana often takes students to ride her three horses in Cupertino, and it is here that she is able to bond with them.
"You never really see them smiling at schools, but it's different out there," she said.
As the lunch bell rings, two boys run by, stopping quickly to give Comesana a hug. These two boys, Comesana said, came into the D.A.R.E program already knowing about drugs and gangs. But, she said, after mentoring them, the students no longer wear gang colors and have found an outlet in sports.
"I was able to get through to them at the right time," she said. "These kids, they need us."