EATON — Many police officers from the Eaton Police and Preble County Sheriff’s Department took a small portion of their weekend to make a big impact on the lives of several children.
Ed’s Kids, a ministry based in Cincinnati, partnered with the EPD and Sheriff’s Department on Saturday, Aug. 15, at the Preble County YMCA, as they hosted the first annual Kids and Cops event. Several children from the Over-the-Rhine District traveled to Eaton to spend the afternoon of local police officers, playing Frisbee, soccer and basketball.
“The reason we’re involved is because a lot of the kids in the program have been taught to fear or dislike police officers, so Nikki O’Dwyer, the program’s director, is trying to show the kids that police officers are just regular people that they can trust,” said Eaton Police Chief Chad DePew. “She thinks if she can show the kids at a young age that police officers are good for the community, it will make them safer and bridge the gap between communities and police. It goes without saying that Cincinnati is experiencing some of those issues right now with the recent shooting.”
O’Dwyer holds the belief that if children, from a young age, are taught that police officers are not the enemy, and that, instead, crime, drugs, and bad behavior are the enemy, then they will grow up staying out of trouble and making their communities better.
The ministry was started by O’Dwyer in memory of Ed Berg, a strong adult influence in her life. Berg passed away from cancer in 2010.
“Ed was a mentor of mine. He poured into my life. He built me up and he encouraged me. He believed in me and taught me leadership qualities,” she said.
The group started with 15 children and has since blossomed, nearing 300 kids. The ministry goes around to places like schools and nursing homes and allows the kids to serve in various capacities. Each area they visit also provides a speaker – judges, lawyers, or police officers, for example – who talks to the children about being positive community leaders.
“We’re trying to save these kids and make a difference in their lives,” said O’Dwyer. “All of them have a heart to serve. It’s an enjoyment for me to go out and see these kids have so much pride and joy in giving to and serving others. That’s what we do. We just go out all year round and serve and serve and love on people. This is a great thing right here – having (the police) love on them and have fun and build relationships.”
Andrew Schmidt, a member of the police department, grew up in the Over-the-Rhine District and spoke to the children at the start of the day.
Schmidt told the kids about how he grew up in extreme poverty with a mother and father who were addicted to drugs. Luckily, he met some adults when he was in a foster home who breathed a positive influence into his life.
“It was during that time that I met some really nice people that listened to me and took interest in me. It was through them that I learned education was the key to success. Up until I met them, I never took school seriously,” he said. “After I met them, I realized that all the things I could do in life with an education.”
He also told them that he dreamed of owning his own home and his own car, and that he always wanted his eventual family to have a better life than what he had.
Living in Over-the-Rhine eventually influenced his decision to become a police officer as well.
“When I was living there, one of the biggest impacts I had was the Cincinnati police. I lived in the area that wasn’t very safe. At times it could be quite dangerous. When things got scary, it seemed like the Cincinnati police would come in and fix things, make it right,” Schmidt said. “When I’d see them come in – you guys know, they have the nice white shirts, shiny black shoes, that nice hat – I thought these guys were like knights. They were really noble.”
He concluded his speech with teaching the kids how to be noble.
“Being noble isn’t about being better than any person. What it actually is, is continually working to be a better person,” he said.
Jeremy Erskine may be reached at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @jerskine_RH