Polishing Up Nicely

Class in Manners Helps Salvage Juvenile Offenders

John Daly
Paul Wellman

[Indy intern Rhys Alvarado sits in on event planner John Daly’s Key Class — a three-class course that teaches first-time juvenile offenders proper social etiquette.]

Eye contact. Firm grip. Lead foot forward.

Who knew a handshake could be so complicated?

For the 10 firsttime offenders in John Daly’s Key Class, learning how to shake hands was like learning how to walk. They didn’t get it right until they stumbled a few times.

“Some people just aren’t taught how to do these things,” Daly said.

And that’s where he comes in. Since the age of 19, Daly’s been a maniac over manners. What started out as a hobby, Daly’s passion for etiquette has landed him jobs planning events for Fortune 500 companies and celebrities like Oprah, Will and Jada Smith, and Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Since the recent slowdown in the event biz, Daly has chosen to share his expertise on social skills with juvenile offenders who have been sentenced by the State of California to rehabilitation programs.

Daly has designed his new Key Class to focus on social etiquette for success in both personal and professional situations. Juvenile offenders acquire tools needed to land a job and even to get by in college. The class, offered through Teen Court and the Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, is recommended to firsttime offenders based on the crime they committed, and hours served in the class can be counted in lieu of community service.

“Rather than have them go out and pick up trash for eight hours,” Daly said, “they’re going to walk away with life lessons.”

In the class, Daly instructs the kids in everything from how to dress for an interview to how to pull out a seat for a lady. In the first course, dubbed “Learning to shake the hand that feeds you,” Daly stressed that the first 20 seconds are the most crucial and that it could take a lifetime to back out of a bad impression.

“I’m not your homeboy,” Daly said to Brandon, a 14-year-old student attending Santa Barbara High School, who looked more like he was playing thumb war than shaking an employer’s hand. “Shake my hand like I’m the one giving you a job.”

With the help of the Gap in the Paseo Nuevo mall, Daly hosts the second part of the Key Class. Here, he uses simple dress ideas to help minors currently garbed in baggy pants and shirts as big as parachutes present themselves for interviews.

Assistant Manager Isaiah Ornelas has helped Daly with interview apparel ideas since the program started up in May. Ornelas picked out a few articles from around the store that he said most anyone has in their closet. “Looking clean and put together is what’s most important,” he said. “It shows who this person is on the inside,” Ornelas said.

In his last course, Daly set up a dining room table so the class can learn how to eat a meal with proper manners. They even get familiar with things like which fork is used for which course. “Employers take you out on meals because they want to see how you act in public,” Daly explained, fork in hand.

“What if I want to dip my steak in the mashed potatoes?” Brandon said.

“Not a good idea,” Daly replied. “I do it all the time at home but not in a business meeting.”

Programs that are run through Teen Court see an impressive turnaround. Strategies like the Key Class are the backbone to a 92 percent completion rate and a recidivism rate of 12 percent, said Ed Cue, Teen Court program director. “These kids are investing in themselves,” he said. “And we’re setting them up for success.”

Teen Court’s “restorative justice” methods are more effective and less expensive than incarcerating minors, Cue said. According to the Santa Barbara County Probation Department, it costs $20,000 to put a minor in juvenile hall for three months, but only $500 to put a minor through Teen Court’s three-month program.

It’s “a whole lot better than tailing, mailing, and jailing ‘em,” Cue said.

Jose Losano, 17, attended Daly’s Key Class in May after being referred to the program for petty theft—and liked it so much that he asked if he could take it again. Daly made Losano his assistant. “Here’s a kid who was totally on the fence and Teen Court and the support he’s had all around has allowed him to see a better future,” Cue said. Losano now also works alongside Daly at his special event design and production company, John Daly Inc.

After all the young people attending the three-week course received their certificates of completion, Daly approached each person, one at a time, to shake hands.

“Thank you,” Daly said to Brandon, holding out his right hand. “Thank you, Mr. Daly,” Brandon replied, also holding out his hand.

Eye contact. Firm grip. Lead foot forward.


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