Planting its roots in the community in 2010, the annual Police P.A.Y. Camp set up shop at Belair Middle School on June 4 for another summer of youth development and educational enhancement during their six week program.
For the past eight years, the Pine Bluff Police Department has taken the initiative to get involved with the community’s youth, ages six to 16, with the implication of their annual summer program. The Police P.A.Y. Camp is designed to provide a schedule of activities spanning from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, which keep the children active while helping them to retain knowledge gained from the previous school year.
“The purpose of the camp is to have a little fun, but at the same time, give them an educational background to where when school starts they haven’t really lost anything,” explained Lt. Hosea Thompson, of the Pine Bluff Police Department. “But it also helps us keep them occupied. Keep ‘em busy.”
A typical day for camp-goers includes breakfast served upon arrival, followed by an activity to “wake them up” as Thompson describes it. Each group, divided by age, earns points dependent on their participation efforts which go towards field trips and other rewards the camp has to offer.
“If they have to put their heads down, make them stand up and stretch,” said Thompson, commenting on the activeness of the children in the camp. “Have them do some jumping jacks and wake ‘em up. You know, to keep it interesting to them.”
Once the children have worked the sleep from the system, they return to their designated classrooms where they join a member of the PBPD for the remainder of their scheduled activities. These activities include games, educational exercises, and guest speakers like the Jefferson County Health Department and others who hold “boys to men” and “girls to women” discussions with the adolescents.
“We’re trying to expose them to different things,” mentioned Thompson in reference to the camp’s regularly scheduled field trips.
Throughout the course of six weeks, students go on various field trips to the local bowling alley, Delta Rivers Nature Center, Arkansas Railroad Museum, Pines Cinema 8, as well as major trips to Magic Springs and Wild River Country. Recently, the PBPD took a group of youth to the Jefferson County Division Two District Court.
As of now, Lt. Thompson is in charge of the Police P.A.Y. Camp’s day-to-day operations and its 250-plus young campers.
“I’ve got to make sure everything runs smoothly, they’re where they’re at, and they’re meeting their targets for the field trips and their classrooms and everything like that,” Thompson specified.
Although Thompson is busy maintaining order of the camp, he still finds time to enjoy the impact the camp has on those who attend each summer.
“I get fulfillment that the kids know who I am. They’re not afraid to come and talk to me,” Thompson shared before reminiscing on his days working the camp prior to becoming lieutenant of the department.
“Perfect example … I was at the wellness track walking, and of the campers from a previous year said ‘man, ain’t you Sgt. Thompson?’” started Thompson. “He remembered who I was and that’s a great feeling to have the kids that remember you. To me, it shows that the program is a success because it’s showing the kids that all police are not bad, and that we can work with the community.”
Thompson revealed that one of the biggest components of their summer program is the choir made up of the campers themselves.
“I will say one of the good things is we have them in choir. That’s one of our big highlights,” announced Thompson. “We teach them songs and later on they perform a couple songs at Bethany Chapel Church. Then at the same time, when we have our graduation at the end of the program they’ll do a couple more songs as well.”
During the program’s graduation ceremony, each classroom will present original cheers that Thompson admits are entertaining to watch.
“Funny parts, we have them do cheers,” said Thompson. “They come up with a cheer, and the cheers can be funny. We have a good time getting them done.”
The Pine Bluff Police Department advertises for the Police P.A.Y. Camp a month in advance to the camp’s start. They spread the word through word-of-mouth advertising, newspaper, radio and television ads and direct phone calls to the homes of previous campers who may be interested in returning. There is a one-time fee of $125 to register students.