By Mia Levine
For teens, finding someone they can trust and confide in to talk about sensitive topics in their lives can be a difficult task. Jill Carelli and Lisa Reinhardt looked for ways to make this hurdle a little easier. This Friday evening, July 15, from 6-8 p.m., they hosted Cookout With Cops at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mount Kisco which allows teens to congregate and spend time informally with police officers.
Carelli, director of religious education at St. Francis, her assistant Lisa Reinhardt and Sgt. Edwin Ramirez of the Westchester County Police and the Village Community Resource Officer worked together to make the event possible.
While Carelli and Reinhardt were co-leaders of a group of high school kids, they noticed that many teens approached them with issues such as cyberbullying, self-harm, and abuse. Teens don’t start talking about their struggles until they realize they can’t contain their emotions any longer.
“(We) want teenagers to know they have people to turn to in times of need; they no longer need to suffer in silence, but also in a fun and informal way.
Teenagers who need someone to talk to about the issues in their life sometimes don’t know who to talk to. COVID-19 over the past two years has not made things any easier as many have felt isolated for long periods.
Carelli and Reinhardt had researched and contacted mental health organizations, hoping to find the right person who could connect with teenagers. A name appeared to them right in their backyard.
Ramirez has been a police officer for 16 years, transferring to the former Mount Kisco Police Department in 2008. He held a similar resource officer position when the village was still operating its local police department.
Earlier this year, the village, which has contracted with the county for police services since 2015, saw the need to return to the role of community resource officer, and Ramirez, who served on the force of the county in recent years, fulfills this role perfectly.
Carelli, Reinhardt and Ramirez discussed the best way to talk to get teens to open up or at least know where they can turn.
Cookout With Cops is an informal and fun night for teens to meet officers. The event is open to all kids in grades 6-12. Admission is $5 to help defray costs.
Carelli and Reinhardt have contacted local restaurants and businesses, and many are donating food, including burgers, hot dogs, empanadas, salad and other goodies. The Knights of Columbus volunteered to do the grilling.
In addition, prizes will be drawn and each participant will receive a ticket for a chance to win a prize.
Another bonus is a “loot bag”. Inside the bag will be informative stickers, a magnet, lip balm, resource information, and other items. Officers will be able to talk to children in attendance while playing lawn games and handing out prizes.
As part of the program, there will also be a Q&A segment where young people can ask questions anonymously and officers
The BBQ with the Cops will take place outside on the church lawn, weather permitting. In case of rain, it will be moved inside.
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