By Stephen K. Peeples
Whether in uniform helping detainees as an L.A. County Sheriff’s Department sergeant in charge of ranch operations at Pitchess Detention Center or volunteering countless hours to help girls, seniors and special-needs kids, Gerri McCorkle makes a difference in the quality of many lives in the Santa Clarita Valley.
She is the quintessential Unsung Hero: She works behind the scenes, and shies away from the spotlight.
“I think it’s wonderful,” McCorkle said of her Unsung Hero honor. But, she added, “I don’t do this for the recognition.”
A Santa Clarita Valley resident since 1991, McCorkle has been a member of the Sheriff’s Department since 1995. She has been married 29 years to Mike McCorkle, a captain in the LASD who oversees custody assistants and deputies in charge of trusted prisoners (or “trusties”) countywide. The couple has three grown children, Bradley (24), Andrew (21) and Erin (19).Many members of our community got to know Gerri McCorkle when was based at the SCV Sheriff’s Station in the Community Resources division from 2001-2006, before she transferred to Pitchess.
“We have 2,600 acres with four jails and we have 150 inmate workers that come outside of the jail cell to work and provide maintenance for the property,” Sgt. McCorkle said of her day job the past six years. “So I oversee the deputies, the custody assistants, the vocational instructors that oversee those workers.”
Pitchess at one time was self-sustaining, growing much of its own food. “We’re working towards that self-sustaining resource again,” McCorkle said. “We have peach orchards and a Christmas tree lot and we have chickens and vocational skills. We paint and have masonry class, so we do a lot of that and we’re hoping to bring back the farming aspect of it as well.”
Outside of working with detainees and inmates as part of her busy professional life, McCorkle somehow finds time to volunteer her time and expertise in the community, in a variety of ways. The list of her volunteer activities is beyond heroic.
McCorkle participated in a Police Unity Tour, riding a bicycle 260-plus miles from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., to honor fallen law enforcement officers during Police Week and to raise funds for the Law Enforcement Memorial Wall in Washington.
Back home, she’s been on the PTA and Site Council for Mountainview Elementary, a Hart PONY Softball coach, a Girl Scout leader (2000-2011) and Gold Award mentor (2005-present), a Cub Scout Leader and committee chair, and an LASD Explorer advisor (2003-2006).
McCorkle created the Sheriff’s Community Toy Store; coordinates the annual holiday party for the Michael Hoefflin Foundation; coordinates Tip-a-Cop nights, the Polar Plunge, silent auctions, the Law Enforcement Torch Run and other events to benefit the Special Olympics. That includes the annual “Fun in the Sun” chili cook-off at the Jack Bones Equestrian Center on the Pitchess ranch (the cook-off benefits other local nonprofits like Fuel By The Fallen, the Police Unity Tour, and Heads-Up Therapy on Horseback as well).
She created the bi-annual “Night at the Rancho” dinner, entertainment and historic jail tour to support local charities and provide community connection with the Pitchess Detention Center, and coordinates the LASD’s annual Stars and Stripes BBQ Competition that supports military charities and LASD 999 for kids.
McCorkle was a member of the SCV Senior Center Foundation board, until it was recently disbanded. During her membership she assisted with refurbishment of the Senior Center in Newhall, and created the Foundation’s volunteer program, GIVE.
She also co-founded the Grands Project (Giving Respect and Nurturing to Deserving Seniors), connecting young people and home-bound seniors, and providing grants to youth groups that helped the Senior Center on various projects, and coordinated “Make a Difference Day” projects at the Senior Center in 2010 and 2011.
Of all her volunteering now, McCorkle sees her work on behalf of special-needs kids as the most rewarding. “Law enforcement supports the Special Olympics internationally, so that is really near and dear to our hearts,” she said. ”Last week we were in Costa Mesa handing out medals at the Fall Games, and we do a Polar Plunge out here and Tip-a-Cop (fundraisers) and we have our regional games out here, so that is really a big part of what I like to do.”
The annual party for the Hoefflin Foundation kids with cancer, coming up Sunday, was launched when McCorkle was based at the SCV Sheriff’s Station. “Jan Fear and myself and a bunch of people that want to make this happen are doing it grass-roots and we’re still carrying on that party,” she said. “The Sheriff’s Department is donating the toys and we have some contributors who will assist us, so that’s another one of the events that I find fulfilling.”
Earlier this year, McCorkle was nominated for SCV Woman of the Year by the SCV Senior Center Foundation. She also won Zonta’s 2007 Carmen Sarro Award recognizing her volunteer work with girls and women.
“That’s a pretty prestigious award,” she said. “I didn’t really realize that when I was nominated for that and then received it. There’s a lot of people that have received it. It seems like they just give countless hours. I don’t do this for the recognition so it was hard to stand up there and get something. That’s not why I do that.”
Why is mentoring girls and young women so important to McCorkle?
“I was a Girl Scout, started in second grade and went all the way through high school. It taught me a lot of independence,” she said. “They didn’t have the Gold Award back then so my daughter followed in my footsteps and went through Girl Scouting, I was a Girl Scout leader for her troop, and then after she got her Gold Award I still wanted to give back, so I mentor girls in finding projects that will get them that award, because it really does help them with college applications and also just obtaining a job. It provides the basis for many things in the future.”
McCorkle was also involved in the Rad Kids program. “Gail Davis and myself from the Girl Scout office taught over 200 girls self-defense,” she said. “At that time I was involved with the toy drive and Neighborhood Watch programs. So that was a lot of work, but I did go out of my way and do a little extra.”
McCorkle nomination earlier this year as SCV Woman of the Year was a surprise to her.
“It’s amazing that they have awards like that,” she said. “I know all the people that are involved in these organizations. They don’t do it for the recognition, but the people that have won that award in the past have done incredible things, so to be in the presence of those people…”
McCorkle is just trying to pay it forward, whether anyone sees or appreciates what she does behind the scenes or not.
“I think we’re now at the age, my age, that we’re just trying to teach the people that would come after us that they have to make a difference,” she said. “They have to take care of each other, and we only get one shot on this earth and if you can do the right things and teach that, then it makes all the difference.”
Click the link below to listen to Sgt. McCorkle’s interview with AM 1220 KHTS’s Jason Endicott on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, or watch the interview video.
Read more of KHTS’s Santa Clarita Unsung Heroes features brought to you by Mercedes-Benz of Valencia.
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Photo: Courtesy LASD.