Each member that belongs to the hunting club at the core of Kops and Kids pays annual dues. These dues help with around 5 percent of the funding the program needs to run. The rest of the funding comes from individuals and businesses. “We’ve gotten tremendous support through businesses in St. Landry Parish and the Lafayette area, and individuals have donated money to help us build our complex,” Williams says. “We get about $3,000 a year from dues but that couldn’t touch the amount of stuff that we do.” Although the donations help with upkeep of the facilities, the program’s biggest financial expense is feeding the kids, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has tried to fill the insatiable appetite of an adolescent boy. “Most of our expenses go towards food,” explains Williams. “It’s tough to finance a group of kids to eat for a weekend. We spend $1,000 in groceries.”
Kops and Kids is a 501 (c) 3 so donors get a tax-deduction along with the good feeling that comes from helping out a program that truly incorporates the spirit of community based policing. “We’re called the sportsman’s paradise for a reason,” explains Williams. “We target disadvantaged kids that don’t have access to a father figure. If we can keep one kid out of the system, that’s pretty good.”
The community-based feel doesn’t stop with the camps themselves. When the property isn’t being used for a Kops and Kids Outdoor Adventure, the program makes it available to others who might not otherwise have a place to get together. At the time of his interview, Williams explained 4H was holding a skeet shoot on the property that weekend. “We can’t do a camp every month,” he explained. “We don’t have the counselors, so we open it up to other youth groups.”
Shop with a cop
A little further north, the Maryland State Police (MSP) interact with their local children with the same intent of demonstrating a positive interaction with law enforcement officers by creating a winter holiday experience called “Shop with a Cop.”
“We put together an environment where kids who are not well off and wouldn’t have a holiday like we know it would have something,” explains Lt. Mark McGuire, Golden Ring Barrack. Inspired by a similar program run by Baltimore County Police, MSP’s program sponsors 50 children who represent around 30 to 35 families. Each child is given a $100 gift card and escorted to the store by a trooper who then helps them pick out their holiday goodies.
After shopping, the group heads to Eastern Tech High School where culinary students serve them lunch, the business and law students wrap their presents and art students do face painting...all while the band plays holiday tunes. “We want to make sure kids recognize that we’re the good guys and that we give back with so many things we do,” explains McGuire.
Often children’s views of officers can be less than positive. “Some may have a negative view because we might come to their house when their parents are fighting and we might arrest mom or dad,” states McGuire. “We need to get to them earlier to prevent that negative view. Most kids look up to police officers and firemen and their teachers, all these public service careers...and I think when you break down the demographics you find the kids that are struggling in the community, maybe with a broken home, it seems those are the kids that maybe are on the fence, and we try to get to those kids as quickly as we can.”
Keeping it local
Like Kops and Kids Outdoor Adventure, Shop with a Cop also focuses on children that are local. “Our program focuses on kids within a stone’s throw of our police barracks so it has a local reach,” explains McGuire. Wal-Mart is the local sponsor and is within a mile or two of the police station. “It made sense that they would contribute the money and that we could incorporate their store and money. It was a partnership,” states McGuire.
Sponsored children are in the elementary school range, 7 to 11 years old, but if the sponsored child has an older sibling, they won’t be left out. “I didn’t think it was fair to have an eight-year-old...come home with these gifts when they have an 11-year-old brother at home that doesn’t get anything,” says McGuire.
With Super Storm Sandy’s lingering effects still unknown, families in this impacted area are facing a holiday season while still trying to deal with the devastation of the storm. Because of this, McGuire expects the program’s impact might be even greater this year than in years past.
Stretching the budget
A majority of funding for “Shop with a Cop” comes from Wal-Mart, which provides the $100 gift cards and also the support from Eastern Tech High School, but it doesn’t stop there. “A smaller percentage has come from individual donors who donate $100 to sponsor one child,” explains McGuire. On the day of the event, the troopers themselves supplement a bit. “You can’t get a whole lot of electronics for $100,” says McGuire.