Pride, camaraderie, respect and honor, are words that should not only be part of every young person’s vocabulary, but experiences that should be part of their lives, said Clermont’s Gary Schindele.

Throw in some science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), leadership skills, seamanship, discipline, physical fitness and other military type training, and you’ve got the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, a national non-profit development program for kids ages 13 through the completion of high school.

Thanks to Schindele, the program’s commanding officer and a retired volunteer firefighter for Montverde and Clermont, area students will be able to join the newly formed unit – Clermont Battalion -- he announced at a city council meeting Tuesday night.

Locally, the Clermont Police Department is sponsoring the program, so the battalion will be headquartered at the new police station opening later this month.

“This program gives kids an opportunity for learning and offers them a positive foundation on their way to adulthood,” Schindele said. “The three tenets of the Navy are honor, courage and commitment, so that’s what we are using as the forefront of our program.”

“There’s not a lot of places for kids to get that these days,” he said.

The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps was established in 1962. The program is supported by the Department of the Navy, the Coast Guard and the Navy League of the United States and is a Congressionally sanctioned youth development program known internationally.

Schindele said it started under the British Royal Navy, expanded to Canada then landed in the United States.

Today, he said, nearly 10,000 cadets and 4,000 volunteer instructors are part of the program worldwide.

Fruitland Park’s Tommy Norris Division has served Lake County in its entirety for 4 years, but Schindele hopes that by adding an option for those who do not live or cannot travel to the north Lake unit, he can extend the program’s reach.

Currently, Schindele said several south Lake students belong to the Tommy Norris Division. The next closest unit, he said is Winter Park's Centurion Battalion.

He said the Clermont battalion will serve all of south Lake, plus West Orange County and the Four Corners area.

Local police officers and specially trained Navy cadet instructors will offer mentoring and training.

“It really is a great program,” he said. “The activities the kids are exposed to are great tools that can help them realize the extent of their potentials and hopefully that will be something many kids around here want to reach.”

Schindele said students must apply and if accepted, must commit to online coursework, one weekend every month for training, special summer training sessions, physical fitness maintenance, community service and more.

April Lopes, an academic instructor with the Winter Park unit, who will be transferring to the Clermont unit, said she believes in the program’s purpose and how effective it can be to keep kids on the right track academically and as people.

Her husband Rafael Lopes is also an instructor and her son Carter Lopes, 15 is a Seaman.

“It (program) guides kids on the path to what they want to do, whether it involves the military or not. It opens the door for them to train with the military and the expectations are so that they have to maintain good character and good academics to stay a part of it,” Lopes said. “It’s just meant to give them the foundation for being good citizens and the best adults they can be.”

Lopes said she volunteers all of her spare time to the program, but she doesn’t mind.

“It’s worth it because these kids are our future,” she said.

Her son Carter Lopes, a 15-year old student at East Ridge High School, said he’s enjoyed the program for the past three years and has gotten a lot out of it.

“For me, the training has given me the opportunity to expand out into the medical field, which is what I want to do, but students can make it whatever they want. You can get your pilot’s license or many other certifications. If you want to go into the Naval Academy, they reserve spots for Sea Cadets,” Carter said.

“The program has had a big impact on me. I’ve learned a lot of new things I wouldn’t have been able to learn anywhere else,” he said.

Schindele said students interested in joining can email him at gschindele@me.com, as can businesses or individuals wishing to donate toward uniforms, training equipment and scholarships for participating students.

For more information, visit www.clermontbattalion.com or email co@clermontbattalion.com