CUMBERLAND — On these lazy days of summer, most teens are enjoying a few extra hours of sleep, but for one group of area teens, 7:30 a.m. is just the beginning of an exciting day filled with activities, demonstrations and experiences these teens will carry with them for years to come.
The Cumberland Police Youth Summer Camp is marking its fifth year with the highest number of participants — 51 Allegany County students in grades six through eight.
“Our numbers have grown every year and this year is no different. These are enthusiastic kids, ready to work hard, learn and have fun,” Sgt. James Hott said.
The program was initiated in 2009, based on a similar program in Winchester, Va., with a simple goal — to mentor middle school students, providing them with the skills and information to make smart, healthy and safe decisions.
Police Chief Charles Hinnant said the camp is just one example of the department’s commitment to offer outreach programs to area teens. He said the number of participants grows each year, a fact that indicates the program continues to be popular.
Hott said the goal of the program is to foster an interest and respect for law enforcement in these impressionable teens, while providing them with a safe place during the summer break.
Students begin their day with physical training and drill and formation exercises led by Maryland State Trooper Jason Crowe.
While the routines can be challenging, smiles can be found throughout the gymnasium at the Salvation Army in anticipation of what will unfold during the day.
The week has proven exciting as teens have witnessed demonstrations, including the Cumberland Emergency Response Team and police motorcycle patrol.
The camp also includes sessions on issues that teens face — drug awareness, Internet safety, bullying and gang activity.
Campers visited the Allegany County 911 Center and also toured the Allegany County Circuit Court.
Pfc. Kyle Parry is among the team of officers who assists at the camp.
Parry serves as a school resource officer in Allegany County and said the positive impact of the camp extends far beyond the one week.
“This can be a challenging time for students and this camp helps them build confidence and skills that can help them in middle and high school,” Parry said.
Organizers said the success of the camp is due to continued community and business support, especially that of the Salvation Army.
“This camp would not be possible if not for the Salvation Army and Capt. Jim Dillingham. He and his staff make this the perfect place to hold our camp,” Hinnant said.
Dillingham said hosting the camp provides the Salvation Army with an opportunity to share the many services offered by the organization and has the potential to change lives.
“This is a win-win for us. We are introducing kids and their families to the many programs we offer here at the center,” he said. “If we can reach or help change the life of just one student, all this work is worth it.”
During a fire department safety presentation held earlier in the week, one of the campers said that her family did not have smoke detectors installed in their home. The officers contacted the teen’s local department and smoke detectors were immediately installed.
This year’s corps of campers includes a mix of newcomers and veterans or “camp corporals.”
The corporals are high school students who return to assist with younger campers.
Melanie Yarnell, 15, has attended the camp since its inception and said she has learned something new each day.
So enthralled by the work of the K-9 unit, she plans to pursue a career in the field.
Her friend Emily Jaramillo’s favorite program has been the demonstrations of forensics and evidence collection.
“It has been great. I love the camp,” she said. “I have learned so much and I really like meeting new people.”
Campers develop a better understanding of the discipline and training needed for officers to complete their jobs — something Connor Kelley, 13, did not realize before attending the camp.
“They have to be ready for everything, always one step ahead of everyone else,” he said. Connor has attended the camp for three years.
McKaily Thomson, 10, is among the newcomers and said the week has been a lot of hard work, but mostly fun.
“I was a little nervous at first, but I have learned so much,” she said. “My favorite part has been watching the K-9 demonstration. I really liked seeing the officers working with the dogs.”
J.T. Stevenson, 13, also a first-year camper, said the week has been exciting and informative.
“I did not know how much hard work officers go through and all that it takes for them to handle their jobs.”
Hott said the enthusiasm of the campers is inspirational for the officers.
“These kids want to be here and they are eager learners. We are all having a blast. We not only share what we do but we play games and talk to them; we want to try to show them that we are just normal people,” Hott said. “And if we can help make a difference, that is what makes it worth it.”
The camp concludes today with a graduation ceremony and picnic, where campers will share their experiences with friends and family.
Contact Angie Brant at firstname.lastname@example.org.