By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Deputy Stephen Young of the Limestone County Sheriff’s Department is busy getting everything ready for the 2019 Youth Mentor Camp, which will be held July 22 through July 26 at the Sheriff’s Rodeo Arena on Hwy 99. It is one of his favorite events of the year, and one that he has personally experienced as being rich with rewards. Stephen has 18 years of experience in law enforcement both in Louisiana and Alabama, and he has been everything from a patrolman and information officer, to D.A.R.E officer, to going on the recent raid and filming the confiscated squirrel of recent national network and social media fame. The Youth Mentor Camp is Stephen’s “baby,” and this is the fourth year that the LCSO is reaching out to kids in Alabama who are vulnerable to being easily influenced.
“We want kids to understand the concepts of values, purpose, and community,” Stephen told me. To that end, he and the staff have created a number of activities and lessons that “force” kids to cooperate as a team, and there are leadership lessons woven into all of them. In the past, school resource officers and counselors have been on the lookout for kids that are good kids, but could be considered at risk; and parents are welcome to “nominate” their children as space allows. “We concentrate on planting seeds with the goal of making these kids better able to cope with negative peer pressure and show leadership instead,” he said.
One of the best things that has come out of previous camps is that graduates along with their parents have become involved in volunteering to help out at the Special Needs Rodeo held each year in May. Being what Stephen describes as “others-minded” is a learned behavior, as is selfishness. There was a time that being selfish was not considered a virtue, and the preoccupation of “looking out for number one” was frowned upon in our society. Sadly, that is no longer the case, and, as Stephen says, “We are losing out as a result.”
I asked Stephen about one of the team-building activities from previous camps, and he showed me a video of kids being given a raw egg, some tape, some plastic straws, and a baggie. Each team was tasked with coming up with a way to protect the egg from breaking when being dropped onto a hard surface. The winning team came up with a way of shielding the egg on one side with the straws, filling the baggie with air and creating an internal “air bag” which made it possible to drop it from several feet without the egg breaking! It was ingenious, and the kids had so much fun.
The campers get to interact with the fire department and K-9 officers, and tour the mobile EMA unit that is dispatched to “ground zero” when we have various types of disasters. Becoming “others-centered” gets very real when campers have the chance to see the kinds of strategies and policies that are in place when people are present whose careers are all about taking care of those in need. In this technological age, getting a chance to see how all the “smart” stuff works to make responders able to do their job more quickly and efficiently is an added bonus.
On a serious note that is handled with some humor, campers learn what it is like to be unable to walk in a straight line when asked by officers who have reason to believe that someone is driving while impaired. There are virtual-reality glasses that replicate what it is like to try and walk while drunk, and the teams have contests to see who can walk the straightest. Spoiler alert: No one can, but some do better than others! The department helicopter will come in for a landing one of the mornings, and the campers will learn about aerial law enforcement surveillance and enforcement.
This year much of the emphasis will be on the process of decision making, both good and bad, which is the key to creating kids who become resistant to peer pressure. There is role playing, and while the campers are having a great time, they will be learning skills that a lot of us had to come by the hard way.
Deputy Young was quick to point out that the camp could not happen without a great deal of community support and donations. “The camp was given a grant by the Lions Club, and several restaurants and stores supply food,” he said. The age for campers is 9-13, and there is no cost to attend. The camp runs daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and buses/deputies will provide transportation if parents cannot. Breakfast and lunch are provided, and water is available at all times. If you have a child that you feel would benefit from the 2019 LCSO Youth Mentor Camp, please call Deputy Stephen Young at 256-232-0111 for more information and registration.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner