When Sgt. John Buckman of the Sheriff's Office looked for a way to keep children off the streets for another summer, Loudoun Youth Inc. came to his rescue.
"Kids can get into a lot of trouble during those couple of months," Buckman said. "We need to keep them busy and keep them off the streets."
The Loudoun Youth Inc., a nonprofit organization set up to find resources to address the needs of the county’s young people, granted the Sheriff’s Office $6,500 to continue its Road D.A.W.G. Camp. Road D.A.W.G., which stands for Don’t Associate With Gangs, is a week-long camp run by Sheriff’s Office deputies designed to show children the pros of being a "good kid" and the cons of joining a gang.
"We want to give them someone positive to look up to," Buckman said, "and show them the consequences of joining a gang."
DURING THE camps deputies participate in team-building exercises and play games with the children who sign up for the camp, as well as take a trip to the juvenile detention center, "so they can see where they could end up if they join a gang," Buckman said.
Buckman, who is in charge of the camp this year, has already set up field trips to Camp Hemlock on the George Mason University campus in Fairfax and to the National Zoo and Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C.
A few months ago, the Sheriff’s Office passed out fliers to Sterling and Seneca Ridge middle schools. Due to funding restraints, the Sheriff’s Office can only admit 12 students per session, and the sessions are already filled to capacity.
"Last year we targeted at-risk students, but this year it’s first come, first serve, no charge," Buckman said.
THE DEPARTMENT OF PARKS, Recreation and Community Service applied for a federal grant to fund the camps last year.
This year, the department turned control of the camps over to the Sheriff’s Office; the two departments worked in conjunction with last year. Without a federal grant to fund the program, the Sheriff’s Office relied solely on outside help.
The Loudoun Youth Inc.’s check will fund the entire camp.
Carol Kost, president of Loudoun Youth Inc., presented Sheriff Steve Simpson and Buckman with a check at a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, May 15, in Leesburg.
Loudoun Youth Inc. is made up of business and community leaders who find ways to fund camps, programs and initiatives that address the diverse needs of children in the county.
CARLOS VERA, a Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Service employee, helped run the camp last year.
"This camp is important to kids at that age," Vera said. "When they are out in the streets, they are usually hanging out with the wrong crowd. It’s up to us to show them the consequences."
The camp counselor said he will return again this year because of a few students that stand out in his mind that made a change for the better after attending camp last year.
"I still have a few kids that come up to me. They still remember that week last summer. They still wear their T-shirt," Vera said. "Not all of them do, but a lot of them."
Vera remembered one sixth-grader, D.J. who made a radical change after visiting the youth detention center in Middleburg.
"It really hit him hard, seeing where he could end up," Vera said. "I think it made him realize his actions could lead him there someday."
BUCKMAN PLANS to run the camp the same way he did last year.
"I think the kids enjoyed themselves last year," he said.
The most important thing of all, he said, is to let the campers know the Sheriff’s Office deputies aren’t the bad guys.
"It’s the bad guys on the street they want to stay away from," Vera said.