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Kids get to know cops by camping

ANDOVER — Eziah Hicks had mixed emotions about his first canoe ride.

“It was scary, but fun at the same time,” the Warren youngster said.

He was one of 32 students, ages 8 to 11, to attend a weekend camp at Pymatuning State Park. In its third year, it was the brainchild of Greg Leonhard, commander of the Trumbull-Ashtabula Group task force, although it has grown to include other law enforcement agencies.

Leonhard said he was walking through the park a few years ago, wondering how to secure a better relationship with minority children.

It became the genesis for Kids and Cops Camping.

The children are primarily from Warren and Ashtabula, with a few from Geneva.

Children were chosen by Trumbull Family Fitness, Ashtabula Area City Schools and Geneva police.

Vincent Peterson, a probation officer from Warren, said he and others from TAG, Ohio State Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies, spent time with 15 Warren area children and 20 children from Ashtabula, for the weekend filled with fishing, boating, canoeing and other outdoor activities.

“It is about bridging the gap between the kids and the police. We want to help build positive relationships between the youth in the community and law enforcement,” Peterson said.

Peterson said he spent five hours interacting with the local youth.

Jason Warren, wildlife officer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, helped Nick Richardson of Warren after Nick caught a fish.

“This is an excellent opportunity for the kids to experience a lot of new things,” Warren said.

“They learn basic casting, safety and how to set up a pole,” he said.

Safety was also stressed a few yards away, where naturalist Cindy Orth gave lengthy directions on proper procedures while using a bow and arrow. She showed kids how to hold their hands out like a triangle to determine their dominant eye.

ODNR personnel from around the state helped during the weekend event.

David Galios was drafted by buddy Mike Wilson of the Warren post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol to teach the kids about archery.

“Quite a few of them knew what a bow and arrow were, but never used one. They never camped,” he said.

Wilson said, “I like working with the kids. I like making a difference in their lives. We come here Friday all in our uniforms. Seeing us like this, it humanizes us to the kids.” He later switched to a tank top and shorts.

Jaiveon Boles of Ashtabula was aiming his bow at the target, utilizing his dominant eye. This is old hat to him. He attended the camp last year.

“It’s fun this year, too,” he said.

Galios wasn’t the only person drafted for the event. Mike Wofford was called to help for a second year by Steve Sargent, director of Samaritan House, Ashtabula County’s homeless shelter.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Wofford said. “I enjoy spending time with the kids. It’s good to give back.”

Galios noted the positive interaction among the kids and cops.

The fact the officers bought the kids sunglasses with flashing LED lights to wear the first night, along with glow sticks, helped as well. The officers got to wear the glasses first, or at least long enough to record a video.

Leonhard said a staggering number of merchants donate food, other materials and just plain cash.

The Trumbull County United Way gave $2,000.

The kids spent Saturday fishing, canoeing, doing archery, enjoying a petting zoo, riding ponies and participating in an obstacle course.

Sunday included pontoon boat rides, a trip to the fish spillway at Linesville, Pa., and a visit from Maurice Clarett, former running back for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Along with the fun, a few gremlins popped up.

Two kids flipped a canoe, but the water was mere inches deep. Another camper got homesick and grandma was dispatched to pick him up.

Leonhard said for the first time, kids didn’t want to go to sleep Friday night. They were in their tents at 1 a.m. still awake.

The goal was to have them so worn out sleep would come a little more naturally the next night.

news@tribtoday.com

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