Police Host Camp for Area Youths

Police Host Camp for Area Youths


Sydney Ross had a revelation during her week at the Fairfax County Police youth camp as she carted her lunch to her cabin of girls at Camp Glenkirk in Gainesville. A deer ran across the path, which was not a sight she's used to seeing at home in Springfield.

"You should leave nature alone. They were the first ones to live here," she said.

The deer were few and far between at Glenkirk, but the spiders are what Jordan Beneke of Lorton was worried about. After dealing with the daddy longlegs for a week, she was ready to go home on Friday, Aug. 16.

"My bathroom doesn't have moss and spiders in it," she said.

Daniel Valesquez uses a camp method to deal with the spiders called "Shovel Justice."

"If you see a spider, you throw on a shovel of dirt," he said.

The insects, moss, heat and "pool toe" were all the hazards the children dealt with at camp as the Fairfax County Police officers stressed teamwork, cooperation, problem solving and fun at the 12th annual camp, which was attended by 70 campers, all in the 8- to 10-year-old range. The long-term goal of the camp is to steer children away from "at risk" activities, portray the officers as role models, and provide everyday lessons they may not get elsewhere.

"In many cases, we select children who will directly benefit from the positive atmosphere promoted," its literature stated.

Vienna resident Alisa Carrano had a wildlife experience while canoeing.

"We saw a blue heron. It flew away. I have a blue heron feather," she said.

FRANCONIA CRIME prevention officer Ed O'Carroll attends the program every year with fellow officers from various stations around the county. The children are selected for the camp by school counselors, principals, incidents in the community where the police were involved, and by parents that could not afford a summer camp for their children otherwise. It is funded partially by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and partially by donations to the Crime Prevention program budget. They receive more requests than there is room for.

"We find them in various ways. We have to turn away some kids," said O'Carroll.

The year-round schools' schedule is a new stumbling block O'Carroll has encountered, and coordinating the camp with their schedule is difficult.

"One of the biggest challenges was dealing with the year-round schools," he said.

A goal of his is to be sanctioned by the schools as well.

"I think by next year, we'll have that approval," he said.

West Springfield crime prevention officer Jayne Woolf was also at the camp for a few days out of the week. The officers have cabins as well, separate ones for male and female officers. There were eight campers from West Springfield, and she tried to relate to the girl campers as well as the boys.

"I would like to think they look at me as a positive role model. It gives you a good feeling to come out and interact with the kids," she said.

Roger Friedt was glad his daughters Chelsea and Ashleigh had contact with the female officers.

"The girls now bonded with the female officers. It was good for my daughters to see that there are female officers out there," he said.

Denise Randall and Si Ahmad were Town of Herndon officers. Although it is a county police program, some city officers were invited to participate as well. The City of Fairfax has yet to participate in the program. Randall stressed cooperation during the box-building exercise, where the campers tried to build the tallest structure with boxes.

"We explained to them throughout life they have to cooperate," she said.

Herndon resident Jessica Hernandez also learned from the box game.

"You have to work together. When we were building the boxes, we had to work together," she said.

Ahmad saw the value of just being there.

"We normally do two meals a day with them, that seems to foster it a lot. They've connected with a lot of kids through that," he said.

BESIDES THE REGULAR camp activities like swimming, canoeing, campfire, volleyball and tie-dying, there are a few other exercises the officers use to teach the campers. The "telephone game" teaches the value of listening and the drawbacks of spreading rumors.

Ahmad also noted the value of the other campers. too. Everyone is encouraged to be positive.

"Tuesday night you'll see kids crying and whining. Then they get other kids saying, 'It's OK,'" he said.

But there are instances of youngsters acting up, as well.

"We had to step in a couple of times this week. When we say we'll call their parents, that usually works. If someone is caught saying something bad about someone, they have to say three good things," he said.

Lt. Tim Wackett of the West Springfield station was the senior officer at the camp this year. The activities are so stringent, the officers get as tired as the campers.

"Each day is packed, every day they're exhausted. We've been wiped out too," he said.

Springfield resident Chelsea Friedt had a good time singing "If I Had a Hammer" before bed one night.

"Our cabin sings songs, she plays the guitar," she said, pointing at her counselor. The counselors are college students who work at Glenkirk for the summer.

Camp director Cheryl Hartman is in her fifth summer at the camp. Besides the police camp, all summer she has religious groups; "Friends in Action," which is another outlook-improvement group from the metro area; as well as other groups all summer.

"This is one of the coolest programs out there for the officers and kids to get together. These kids come pretty scared, unsure of themselves, and in the end, they don't want to leave," she said.

Some wanted to stay longer, but after five days, the freedom from parents was starting to wear off. Sydney looked forward to one thing when she got home: "Give my mom a hug," she said.

Jordan is an only child and had the same thought on her mind. She sent a postcard home earlier in the week.

"I'm going to stay with my mom the whole time," she said.

Jessica Hernandez learned the duties of an older sister at the camp.

"I have to set a good example for my little brother," she said.