For the past six years, 11-year-old Alyssa Hawkins has participated in the Pine Bluff Police Department’s Police and Youth Camp. Through the program, the department connects law enforcement officers with the youth of the city.
“We get to go on field trips and do fun activities, interact with other kids and the officers,” said Hawkins on why she returns every year. “If you sit at home, you don’t really have anything to do so it’s fun to come here.”
The six-week program beginning in June and ending in July allows campers to go on field trips to Wild River Country, Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park and the Pine Bluff Aquatic Center among other attractions and activities. In addition, they also get a chance to listen to guest speakers on topics like self-esteem, respect and bullying.
“We started the camp in reference to interacting with children, so they can see us in a different side,” said Pine Bluff Police Department deputy chief Shirley Warrior. “Normally, when we come to their house it’s always bad. So, in this way, they know that it’s more than police officers are bad officers.”
With a theme of “we are your people and you are our people,” Warrior hopes the camp encourages respect and trust between law enforcement and campers.
“We don’t hurt our people, we don’t break in our people’s houses and we don’t take from our people,” Warrior said referring to the camp’s theme. “So, if we instill that in them, then we will be a better community.”
After being a camper for the second year in a row, 10-year-old Lauryn Welch, recommends other students attend the camp in the future.
“It’s fun,” said Welch. “If you feel like you’re not confident or won’t know anybody, everybody will try to be your friend, because it’s fun.”
According to Warrior, 218 students’ ages 6 to 16-years-old enrolled in this year’s P.A.Y. Camp. A graduation caps off the program, which includes awards. By the end of the camp, Warrior says campers have gained experiences to last them a lifetime.
“Engaging the community with these kids is a benefit for the police department and the community, Warrior said. “These kids can say they played basketball with Officer Sims. They know Deputy Chief Warrior. In some cities, they don’t know police officers by name unless they are related. So, if they can sit down with a lieutenant, deputy chief or a sergeant, to us that means something.”
The graduation is slated for July 11.