Helping Students with Mental Health

“My main thing is knowing my kids, and knowing how to deal with situations,” says Officer Dinnall. Photo by Pat Barcas.

In July, Joreeca Dinnall of the Hendersonville Police Department, a School Resource Officer at Hendersonville High School, received the C.C. McGee School Resource Officer of the Year award — presented by the North Carolina Association of School Resource Officers at their annual conference in Wilmington — after helping a student navigate a mental-health crisis.

Officer Dinnall was born in Hendersonville, and returned to the town in 2008 after her family was left homeless. She says she wants to give the students at Hendersonville High the things she lacked growing up — meaning guidance, mentorship, and a sense of community. She spent 11 years working as a manager at McDonald’s, but admits she gets her coffee at Dunkin’ now. 

Is School Resource Officer suited for every police officer? Does having a certain type of personality help?

Yes, you do need a certain type of personality to deal with the kids of this generation. I’ve worked with kids all my life, I’ve been connected with the [Hendersonville] Boys and Girls Club since 2008. This job fits for me.

Did you know you were getting the award?

I had no idea. I knew I was nominated, but didn’t know I was going to win. I love my kids. I’m just trying to give back to this community.

What’s your day to day like?

The number-one thing is safety. Second, it’s [being] a mentor, a role model in the school. You have kids battling mental illness, depression, and you have drama. My main thing is knowing my kids, and knowing how to deal with situations. You have to use your experience to see what fits best.

How has your job been during the pandemic?

It has been difficult. [Specifically last year.] A lot of following up. Definitely a lot of missing kids. Kids did not show up for school at all, I had to do a lot of house visits, a lot of phone calls. [The school schedule] was different for everybody. But we have a good team, and when everyone’s working together, it fits.

Should there be more police focus on addressing mental health?

Mental illness is a thing, and everyone should be aware of this issue. We suffer from it, and it’s real. With teenagers, it’s a different type of challenge. … You kind of have to put the police officer aside for a second sometimes, and be a friend. You don’t want a child to feel like you’re intimidating them by any means. … It’s not easy. Every child is different. I’m consistent, and eventually, they open up.

When you’re at work, do you think back to your own mentor?

My mentor is Julia Hockenberry, assistant executive director at the Boys and Girls Club of Henderson County. When our family moved back to Hendersonville, that woman loved me with open arms. She didn’t judge me, she just always made sure that I was on the right path. That’s what we need.

And now you extend that attitude to the kids you work with?

[I’m] there inside and outside of the classroom. I have to be active. I want to know what’s going on in my kids’ life, I want to know their parents. I don’t want to be blindsided on anything.

Joreeca Dinnall, Hendersonville Police Department, jdinnall@hvlnc.gov

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