The local Kids & Kops program recently wrapped another successful run, with a grad for the youngsters held on July 13.
The program was originally designed about 13 years ago by Sgt. Brian Zens with the Lacombe Police Service, and his wife Crystal Zens who at the time was executive director of Big Brother Big Sisters of Lacombe.
“The main goal of it was just to help build a better, stronger community and see positive relationships built at a young age between local kids and officers,” explained Sydney Zens, BBBS mentoring director.
The camp welcomes kids from ages eight to 11, and altogether, 24 kids took part this year.
Each day is packed with fun, interactive, and educational activities to help the youth become more familiar with the ins and outs of police work.
And each year, officers from Lacombe and Blackfalds are also pleased to take part and offer support and guidance.
“They are all there on the first day along with our BBBS volunteers, and that’s how we welcome the kids into our camp,” she said.
“We will do things like police identification, so they will do fingerprinting to start the day, and police photos in a cop car. From there we get bussed to LMC where we get to do our police training station scenarios.”
These run the gamut from restraint training to trying out drunk driving goggles while tackling obstacle courses to learning to handle handcuffs.
Campers are divided into two groups – while half are undergoing the training, the other half are solving a kidnapping.
“They have clue stations where they get to investigate and try to figure out who the kidnapper is. We have volunteer actors, too, so they tell their ‘stories’. The kids play the roles of officers – questioning the suspects!”
Next up, the team heads to Boston Pizza, which donates pizzas for the kids and volunteers to enjoy, she said.
“It’s all such a great experience for the kids, and so memorable. We had five or six volunteers this year who are now teens, who had also been in the camp in previous years. So it’s really cool that they had an interest in coming back.”
Other camp highlights include a trip to Red Deer’s Bower Ponds for police boat racing utilizing paddle boats and a visit to the RCMP K-9 kennels at Innisfail for an up-close look at the police dog training.
Finally, the campers graduate from the program at Casey’s Cabin.
Family, friends, dignitaries, volunteers, and all the local officers gather to cheer the kids on for this accomplishment.
“There is so much positive feedback that comes out of this camp,” said Sydney. “They are also always pretty shy and quiet on the first day, but as soon as we get going – they just open up so much. They have so much fun, and we have such positive feedback from the kids, too.”
Sgt. Brian Zens said the camp essentially started from a passion for working with youth.
“I think I also had a passion for identifying problems and trying to think of solutions – so it just kind of naturally happened with Crystal’s mentorship role and us having a role within our community to provide that,” he explained.
“The vision of our organization as a police service is also to work in partnership with our community,” he said. “We take the campers through a week of activities that really replicates what our responsibilities as officers are in keeping them safe, and we introduce these responsibilities in a fun way. We are putting them in our boots, so they better understand what our job is,” he added.
The camp is also all about having the kids work in teams and in partnerships, so those skills are built up, too.
Brian said the camp is just a terrific way to reach out and get to know members of the community better in a casual and fun way. And hopefully, a few of the youngsters may consider a career in policing down the road.
“Some of those youth will be our leaders of tomorrow,” he noted. “I said at the graduation that I’m still waiting for youth who have graduated from our Kids & Kops program to be the future officers in our community!”