Local middle school students can spend part of their summer learning and having fun with members of the Clay County Sheriff's Department at a youth leadership camp.
The Indiana Sheriffs' Association Youth Leadership Camp creates an opportunity for young adults to see law enforcement officers in a whole new light while participating in fun activities that help develop trusting relationships.
"Campers learn lifelong leadership skills and respect for themselves and others at the camp," Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton told The Brazil Times recently. "The kids have fun learning from law enforcement personnel about the laws of the state and what it takes to be a law enforcement officer."
Officers participating in the camp also learn a great deal.
"I didn't know what to expect, but it turned out to be a great experience," Det. Jeff Maynard said about his first time as a camp counselor in 2007. "Working with the kids gives us an opportunity to develop better relationships with them."
Deputy/K-9 Handler Josh Clarke agreed with Maynard.
"Being at camp, working together, helps kids realize that we're not the bad guys," Clarke said. "We get to interact with kids as people."
Approximately 160 girls and boys in seventh- and eight-grades from schools around the state will be able to attend two separate camp sessions this year. The first session, which includes 80 children from the northern part of the state, will take place June 23-25 at Ross Camp, West Lafayette, (Tippecanoe County). Eighty children from the southern part of the state can attend the second session, which includes children from Clay County, July 7-9 at Waycross Episcopal Camp, Morgantown (Brown County).
Heaton, who helps organize the annual event, said law enforcement officers from various sheriff's departments around the state conduct demonstrations about boat and water safety, drunk driving simulations, K-9 demonstrations, defensive tactics and use team activities and sports to teach leadership skills, comradeship and discipline.
"This camp is about helping kids build life skills so they can make good decisions throughout their lives that will allow them to become strong leaders for tomorrow," he said. "It will be a little different this year because we have focused activities more on getting the kids to work together in groups and learn team skills. These are important skills everyone needs to succeed in life."
Guest lecturers are also invited to speak at the camp about how the government works, why laws exist as a way to develop good citizenship and the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.
Although six Clay County children went to camp last year, Heaton, Maynard and Clarke said they would like to take more to the camp this year. The officers said several of last year's campers have already contacted the department about returning to camp this year.
The Indiana Sheriff's Association provides the funding for the camp and, Heaton said, scholarship assistance is available for families with children who might want to go but are unable to afford the camp registration fee. Applications will be available at the Clay County Justice Center during normal business hours until the deadline on May 27.
"We're really grateful for the generosity of local businesses, civic organizations and community support through fund raising efforts that will allow local children to participate in camp," Heaton said. "If a kid wants to go, we'll find a way to get them there."
For additional information, contact the Clay County Sheriff's Department at 446-2535, Ext. 5.