Kids, cops build relationships amidst ‘joy'

CLARKSVILLE, Ohio - Joy isn't just a word in the name of a Clarksville, Ohio, camp. It's what is created for kids like 12-year-old Anthony Thomas-Johnson of Woodlawn.

Those around him spouted off what the past week has been like for them at Camp Joy: "Incredible, adventure, courageous, fun, joyful... fun. It lives up to its name."

"Some people don't get to come and stuff and we get to do a lot of different things. Instead of just like one day camp, we get to stay for the whole week," said Johnson, who is going into seventh grade at Princeton Middle School this fall.

But it's not just any camp. He and his fellow 97 campers, ages 10-12, were paired with Cincinnati police officers, giving them the chance to bond all week, learning from each other outside the uniform.

"He's a really great guy, a really great kid," said Officer Darrell Beavers of Johnson, who he has worked with the past few years.

"He's always been personable, he's always, he's never had those boundaries that have been set up, you know, some kids are kind of stand-offish, but he's really a great, personable kid. Every kid in our cabin loves him," said Officer Darrell Beavers.

Johnson described Beavers.

"His arms are... is bigger than my, bigger than my head," he said laughing with his cabin mates.

But Beavers is more than just big arms, which used to play in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs.

He is a District 3 police officer, and has been with the Cincinnati Police Department for 12 years. He has been coming to Camp Joy, reaching out to inner-city kids, for the past few years, in hopes of preventing problems later down the road.

"Once they've reached a certain age, it's kind of hard to grasp, to bring them back. If you can save them now, you can talk to them now, you can probably reach out and be able to change a lot of their behavior," he said.

"What they see... a lot of these people are victims of their environment. And we want the children to come out, outside of their environment... come to an environment where there's nature, where they feel safe, they feel comfortable, they feel no threats at all. And then they can see us in that light in how we just want to be there to help them and not necessarily to be there to enforce the laws."

He said that it is important for these kids to understand who the police are when they see them out and about in their neighborhoods back home.

"You shouldn't be afraid of the police. We're the ones we want you to come to if you're in need. We want you to come to us."

"Letting them see the police in a different light. Let them see us relaxed, outside of our uniforms, and really give them an opportunity to bond with us, when it's not a situation when we have to respond to their house for a bad situation."

It's also a chance for the police to learn how to take a different approach to kids and when they are back on their beats working to protect and serve.

"You're constantly learning. You're constantly adapting, and I think that's a good thing. I think that you learn a lot of patience," said Beavers.

One thing campers learned without a doubt this week was singing, cheering, and how to enJOY life.

It's Johnson's third and last year at the camp, however, next year, he said that he plans on being a counselor… ''Cause I like being at Camp Joy. It's fun."

The campers are able to attend a week-long session thanks to the fundraising through Camp Joy as well as funding from the City of Cincinnati. Camp Joy has been a part of this week-long camp for about 20 years; however, it's been a partnership with police officers since 1969.

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