Cops & Kids

Community support lets officers shop with kids

Story by Candy Neal | Photos by Marlena Sloss

JASPER — Four-year-old Head Start student Ray perused Walmart’s toy cars aisle Wednesday morning with three people from the Dubois County Community Corrections Department.

He picked up a yellow Hot Wheels cars that made racing sounds, while holding a smaller red car in his other hand. He studied both.

“What do you think, bud?” Corrections Officer Amy Wyland asked him.

As he thought, he spied a green racing car to his right. He put the red one down and grabbed the green car. It was just like the yellow one.

“You like yellow or green?’ Case Manager Danielle Traylor asked.

Ray held up the green. “I want to take this one home,” he declared, while placing it into their shopping cart.

“He picks up lots of things,” Corrections Director Megan Durlauf noted as Wyland went around the corner with Ray to another aisle. “But when he says, ‘I’ll take this home,’ we know that’s the one he really wants.”

At the end of the toy search, Ray put back all of his toys and settled on a big Monster Truck called Grave Digger.

Ray was one of 50 Tri-Cap Head Start kids who were shopping for toys and clothes with local police officers and law enforcement officials. The annual shopping trip is called Cops and Kids, and about 60 law enforcement personnel participated this year. That means that some kids shopped with more than one officer. In Ray’s case, he got three.

Indiana State Trooper Brian LaRoche, left, his wife Cathy LaRoche of Huntingburg, and Indiana State Trooper Philip Hensley read over their shopping lists before meeting the children at the annual Tri-Cap Head Start Cops and Kids event at Walmart in Jasper on Wednesday. "It's sort of a Christmas tradition," Hensley said. "A way of showing support in the community and helping kids."
Dubois County Community Corrections Field Officer Rayce Jones carries Tristan, 4, into the store.
Dubois County Sheriff Tom Kleinhelter and Sheriff's Office Administrative Assistant Kenya Harris ask Emerald, 4, where she wants to go next in the store.

Wyland understood well the impact such generosity can have on children and their families.

“I was on the other end at one time. I’ve been at the bottom,” she said. “And there were people who did something like this for my children. It was like a secret Santa thing. It was here at Walmart years ago. This gives kids hope that not everything is going to be the same forever. It may be a not-so-easy home life right now. But that doesn’t mean that it will last forever.”

She is glad that she is able to spread that kind of love and encouragement this time.

“To turn around and be able to give back in a way like someone has given my children, is an honor,” she said. “I prayed this morning, for the kids and for all of us. I prayed that this is a good outcome and positive experience for the kids. This lets them know that they are special and that there are people out there who care for them.”

Cops and Kids has been happening for about 20 years, said Jasper Police Department Sgt. Adam Bower, who has been organizing the event for the last 17 years.

“The kids need this kind of interaction with us as law enforcement,” he said. “And the kids need a bright spot in their life. They need the giving that they may not always get.”

This year, $150 was spent on each child. The majority of the money goes to things the children need, like clothes; but about 25% is spent on wants, like toys. The money comes from private donations by local people, businesses and organizations.

Dubois County Sheriff's Deputy Troy Leinenbach holds up a jacket to show 5-year-old Genesis.
Jasper Parking Enforcement Officer Connie Betz pushes Nova, 3, down a toy aisle.
Lillian, 3, left, swaps toys with her twin sister Zoey as Dubois County Community Corrections Field Officer William Bishop assists the twins.

Jasper Police Officer David Julian enjoyed his time with 4-year-old Alecxander. The duo played shopping cart bumper cars with other kids, laughed a lot and picked out clothes and toys. One of the more unique things he picked out was a deck of UNO cards.

“That’s what he wanted,” Julian said as he loaded all of Alecxander’s new clothes and toys onto the checkout conveyor belt.

The little boy pointed to them. “I like UNO,” he said with a wide grin on his face.

Julian was happy to be a part of the event a second year, having been a participant in a similar program years ago, near Indianapolis.

“I shopped with a cop when I was a kid,” he said. “So to able to do it now, on the other side, is very rewarding.”

It had a lasting impact on him.

“I remember trying on the clothes. Back then, you had to actually try on the clothes,” he said. “I don’t remember what I got, but I remember it being a really fun experience.”

Autumn Stallman of Jasper, left, and her husband, Jasper Police Officer Mike Stallman, help Josiah, 4, choose toys.
Left: Austin, 3, reaches for the badge of Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Jon Watkins. | Right: Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Kendrick Fuhrman pushes Ayden, 4, towards the Walmart entrance.

Seeing officers in such a positive light influenced Julian to pursue law enforcement, he said.

“Sometimes you only get to see officers when there is a bad situation,” he said. “This program lets you see them in a positive way. The interaction with officers helped me see the police in a positive light, and that was really reinforcing.”

After the shopping spree, the kids loaded up on a chartered bus and were escorted by a long, siren-sounding police escort to the Jasper Moose Lodge. There, they ate with their officers and talked to Santa. They also got to see Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide, who came out to Walmart to see them and the officers.

“This a great opportunity for the children to see officers in a positive and fun light,” said Molly Wuchner, director of Tri-Cap’s Head Start. “It works on building relationships and building community partnerships for the children. And some of these kids and families might not be able to have this generous of Christmas presents. This is an excellent way to supplement and give the kids a little something extra for Christmas this year.”

Wyland can attest to that.

“To experience that joy with a child who may not be getting as much for Christmas or may not have certain members of the family to be with them,” she said, “I think this can be a powerful impact on someone so small. This is something that can give them encouragement.”

Dubois County Security Center Jail Officer Katie Knies holds Nevaeh, 4, as she picks out a jacket.
Indiana State Police Sergeant Chad Dick pauses his shopping cart to ask Carter, 4, which direction to go next.
Dubois County Sheriff's Deputy Detective Sergeant Jesus Monarrez holds Liam, 3, on his shoulders after shopping.

The Herald | Dubois County, Indiana | Thursday, December 5, 2019