Changing misconceptions

GVL / Emily Frye      
Local kids get the chance to talk with Officer Minh Lien on Saturday Feb. 18, 2017.

Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye Local kids get the chance to talk with Officer Minh Lien on Saturday Feb. 18, 2017.

Drew Schertzer

When people hear the term “law enforcement,” the idea of a police officer on duty ready to protect people typically comes to mind. But for many at-risk Grand Rapids youth, this isn’t always the case.

“Those Who Protect Us” is an event held annually to try to change misconceptions these youths may have about public safety officials. This year, it was held Saturday, Feb. 18, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Grand Valley State University’s L. William Seidman Center, Room 1008. Roughly 100 people gathered throughout the day to participate in several activities.

The Criminal Justice Student’s Association (CJSA) teamed up with Pals Student Mentors years ago to begin putting on these events. 

Chad Jackson, the president of the CJSA at GVSU, said he tried to reach a wider range of kids each year. He hopes by offering “Those Who Protect Us” to poorer socio-economic classes of students, they will begin to trust officials.

“Our goal is to provide at-risk youths a chance to build positive relationships with public safety officials,” Jackson said. “Danger arises when kids don’t think these officials can make them safe.”

Children flocked to the Seidman Center eager to learn. They were all placed into different groups and went to six different stations. There, the kids were able to hear from many different safety professionals, including police officers, firefighters, paramedics and more. There was also a firetruck and a K-9 unit present.

These kids have little or no experience with law and fire departments, said Kathleen Bailey, a Pals adviser, so through this experience, these children can see the real roles the officials play.

“We want kids to see that these people care deeply about their lives and want to protect and serve them,” Bailey said. “This experience is informational, and it’s also corrective, so kids will see the officials are meant to protect them.”

The children seemed to thoroughly enjoy the event. They were given a free lunch and each got to win prizes as well. They browsed curiously through the stations and were able to explore a firetruck and a police car and meet a police dog.

Bailey believes mentors are one of the greatest influences on kids from a young age. She said her mentors have hearts of gold and try their best for the kids they mentor. Bailey also wants the children to see her mentors in the most positive light possible.

“We all need mentors or people to celebrate and encourage us,” Bailey said. “They call us our best, and we can borrow hope from them when we lose ours.”