Campout benefits both the children and volunteers
William A. West
JEFFERSON_It was a message from God that inspired the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s detective to develop a program that would reach out to the minority youth of northeast Ohio. The relationship between law enforcement and the minority community was one of mistrust and fear.
The idea is to improve the communication lines between law enforcement and minority children residing in Ashtabula and Trumbull counties.
Det. Greg Leonhard was taking in the sights during a stroll through a park situated in both Pennsylvania and Ohio.
“While walking in Pymatuning State Park on the Pa. side, God put this message in my heart,” Leonhard said. “The campout came to mind.”
Still walking at the park, Leonhard, assistant director of the Trumbull Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force, placed a call to Ashtabula County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci. The prosecutor said that it was a very good idea.
The first camp took place in May 2017 at Pymatuning State Park – Ohio.
The camping event allowed the young campers to see law enforcement officials in a different light; not just as people in uniforms wearing guns showing up to arrest neighbors, friends or family.
“When the thought first comes to mind you do not understand what you’re undertaking,” Leonhard said.
More than 25 children participated in the first year. Campers, under the watchful eyes of many volunteers, experienced archery, fishing, canoeing, making T-shirts, pontoon boat rides and more.
“None of this would be happening if it wasn’t for Pymatuning State Park – Ohio and Park Manager Mark Broughton,” Leonhard said.
Broughton was enthusiastic about the idea from the get-go.
“I saw this as a great opportunity to show these young people the recreational facilities that we have at the park,” Broughton said. “It is also a great opportunity for my staff, the park staff, to get involved with something that is bigger than we are.”
Broughton likes the transformation he sees in the youth as they become more acclimated to the rigors of camping out and spending time with law enforcement volunteers.
“Maybe someday one of these young people will end up being a park officer, a park ranger or park manager,” Broughton said.
Steve Sargent, of The Samaritan House – Ashtabula, was an integral member of the planning group that helped the Kids & Cops Campout program get off the ground.
“I was blessed to be involved from the beginning shortly after Greg had the idea and talked to Prosecutor Iarocci,” Sargent said. “We had a whole lot of ideas in the beginning.”
Being the city man that he is, camping out was a completely foreign experience for Sargent.
“It was my first time of ever camping outside; ever,” Sargent said. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
The camping out experience for the minority youth provides a valuable line of communication to law enforcement, emergency rescue personnel and caring civilian volunteers.
“They get to see law enforcement in a different light and the different things that they do,” Sargent said. “So a lot of our kids went home with the idea I want to be one of those guys when I grow up. To me, that was worth every effort we put forth.”
The Kids & Cops Campout is beneficial to both the young campers and the volunteers themselves.
“I think we are really onto something, I expect this to become state-wide and used in other parts of the country,” Sargent said. “Other places are looking at what we’ve done already and now want to see how we do it.”
Sally Bradley, Closing the Achievement Gap linkage coordinator with Ashtabula Area City Schools, helps recruit children for the campout and she volunteers during the campout event.
“It is a much needed experience for the youth to understand law enforcement as being a positive role model,” Bradley said. “The camp opens up communication lines at a much earlier stage of life.”
The camp organizers feel that the Kids & Cops Campout event is one of the most satisfying and worthwhile organizations they are involved with in northeast Ohio.
“Of all the events we have at Pymatuning State Park I would put the Kids & Cops Campout as the most important event we hold all year,” Broughton said.
“Hats off to Greg for letting God speak to him and following through with it,” Sargent said.
“To me, this has probably been the most rewarding thing that I have been involved in during my 35-year career,” Leonhard said.
The 2018 Kids & Cops Campout was held May 18 through May 20. This story was intended to be a preview of this event, but illness prevented AshtabulaCurrent from completing the story in a timely fashion. AshtabulaCurrent extends its apologies to Det. Leonhard, Park Manager Broughton, Mr. Sargent and the Kids and Cops Campout volunteers.
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