There is a story that always brings tears to the eyes of Derry Township Police Sergeant. Darren Cotten.
“Bo was in second grade when we started having lunch together once or twice a month and then going out together for recess,” Cotten said. “We were a perfect match, instantly, because he’s a little athlete, in the same sports as me – football, baseball and basketball.”
The first few times, Cotten’s presence, as a uniformed policeman, drew curious glances from Bo’s classmates. They were skeptical.
“But I would start playing on the playground and you would start to see the barrier come down,” Cotten said. “More and more children were coming to hang out with us.”
The following year there was a breakthrough.
“One day we were having lunch and all the kids were asking Bo, ‘Can I sit with you?’ And there was still a place at our table. I cry every time I tell this story because there was a child sitting alone. And it’s nothing that I said to Bo, but he went and asked this kid to sit with us.
Cotten paused for a moment, remembering.
“The smile on that kid’s face and seeing Bo walk up to someone sitting by himself, was that part of Bigs in Blue? I don’t know,” Cotten said.
But you could tell, he wonders.
Bigs in Blue is a national initiative designed by Big Brothers Big Sisters to pair young people with law enforcement mentors. The agents meet the “little brothers” a few times a month in the schools of the region.
Bo, now 11, was adopted by his grandparents when he was 5 years old.
“Bo struggled at first after leaving his mother and father, and we were looking for support to help him through that. I was very excited when I found out that his teacher had recommended Bo for this program” said her grandmother, Betty Jane Condron, of Derry Township, “Bo really respects Darren, and I love that Darren is a super good role model for Bo.”
The couple got along so well that they were allowed to meet regularly off school grounds – at Cotten’s, in area pizzerias and at Bo’s sporting events.
In fact, Cotten said, “My wife and son are always asking, ‘When is Bo coming back? “”
Regionally, Bigs in Blue thrives under the umbrella of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region (BBBSCR).
“Our goal is for kids to have a lifelong mentor,” said Amy Rote, president and CEO of BBBSCR, which created Bigs in Blue in central Pennsylvania. “It was my baby. It all really started in 2014 with Ferguson [and the shooting of an 18-year old Black man by a white police officer]. I received calls from “big ones” asking me: “How can I help my “little ones” to be safe? »
She started talking to the police department in the area and Swatara Township was the first to join us. BBBSCR’s Bigs in Blue was officially launched in 2016.
“We have a region that is really committed to giving back to children and trying to build relationships – it just needed the structure [of Bigs in Blue]”Rote said.
Elizabeth Goodman is the full-time coordinator of BBBSCR’s Bigs in Blue. His background includes several years of teaching experience, first at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Harrisburg, then at Yellow Breeches Educational Center, a private school for students struggling in their district due to mental health and mental health issues. other diagnosed health conditions.
“My grandfather was a police officer, and when I saw the Bigs in Blue post, it touched me, knowing the importance of relationships with police officers,” said Goodman, who personally interviews – and associates – the police to young people.
“Big ones get to know their little ones and the struggles they face, and the little ones realize that their big ones are real people,” Goodman said. “The general objective is to develop the program. We are constantly creating new departments and growing.
Mentoring on the map
BBBSCR currently has the second largest Bigs in Blue program in the country, in terms of number of participants, behind Miami.
However, when it comes to the number of police departments hired, BBBSCR leads the nation. Thirteen regional police departments spanning five counties, plus the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), are participating in Bigs in Blue, through a total of 36 officers, with more than 20 additional officers pending games this school year. coming.
East Hempfield Township Police recently became the first Lancaster County department to participate – “and four officers applied to me on the first day,” Goodman said. “It’s a moment that stands out for me because it shows how much officers want to impact a child’s life.”
But the impacts radiate even further, beyond the fraternity in the neighborhoods.
“Sometimes kids can change a parent’s perspective on the police or the perspective of other kids,” Cotten said.
Cotten, Goodman and PSP were all guest speakers representing the thriving BBBSCR program at last year’s national Bigs in Blue conference.
PSP Lt. Adam Reed has been a volunteer for Bigs in Blue since the beginning. He is currently paired with 11-year-old De’Von, who moved to the area last year.
“Making new friends at a new school will always be a challenge no matter who you are,” Reed said. “So, I was hoping I could ease that transition for him.”
Ultimately, does this program, Bigs in Blue, have the ability to change the narrative, influence and improve the relationship between today’s youth and the police?
“Yes, you hit the nail on the head – it definitely has the potential to change the narrative and have positive impacts on young people in Pennsylvania,” Reed said. “It is important today, more than ever. Traditionally, people interact with the police when they are having their worst day. So, it’s really refreshing from our end to interact with the community in a positive way, and this program allows for that.
To learn more about the Big in Blue and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region, visit capbigs.org.
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