CCSO’s summer camps: Building a future
Published 6:11 pm Monday, August 19, 2019
The loud, high-pitched scream might have been cause for alarm were it not for the broad smile on Kaiyah Pendill’s face.
Dangling at the end of a rope several feet in the air, Pendill screamed with delight as she swayed back and forth at the Currituck YMCA Alpine Tower swing. Pendill was one of a half dozen middle school students taking turns being hoisted 30 to 40 feet up and then let loose to swing through the air. The Alpine Tower was just one activity among many during two weeks of the Currituck County Sheriff’s Middle School Summer Camp.
Through a mixture of life experience and an assortment of fun activities, Currituck Deputies Jason Jones and Nathan Large have been spending their summer days with middle and high school students, introducing them to a whole new world of opportunities.
Large said last year was the first year for the camp and that Sheriff Matthew W. Beickert allowed them to create a program that would meet three main objectives:
– build a rapport with and get to know their kids,
– offer career enrichment,
– offer life enrichment.
As school resource officers, Large and Jones already knew and interacted with most of the participants throughout the year. Summer camp opened the door for a closer relationship.
Campers registered for a middle or high school camp just before school let out for the summer. Each was assigned first come, first serve to the summer camp for the current grade level completed.
With Currituck County High School as the base for camp operations, each day’s camp ran from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. with lunch provided by the Currituck County Schools summer food nutrition program.
“Our schools have helped a lot with the food program,” Beickert explained. “That was a big concern because we could buy a lunch or pack a lunch, but you have to have a healthy, approved meal for them. So this was big to have the school let us have our home base here. We owe the school immensely to operate right here.”
Beickert said the idea for the camp came to him while at the FBI academy. Each week was an enrichment program and it occurred to him that a similar program would be great for the kids.
After he was elected sheriff in May, the first camps started the Monday after school was out.
“Once I knew I was going to be sheriff, we got it together in just a few weeks,” Beickert explained. “These guys did it last year and there was a learning curve there.”
“We put this together in about four weeks last year,” said Jones. “Some of those days were 15 hour days.”
Large estimated that they had about 55 participants in three camps that first year. This year, with more time to prepare, there were about 85 students in five camps. In addition to one high school camp and three middle school camps, there was a mentor camp.
“The mentor development camp is unique,” said Large, “because kids get an opportunity for specialized training like bloodborne pathogens and be CPR certified.
“We take high school kids and train them how to be mentors with the middle school kids,” explained Jones.
“We could not do it without them,” added Beickert. “And those kids give up their summer jobs to be mentors when they could be out making money.”
“Our goal is to create unique and personal relationships with the community,” continued Beickert. “We don’t want to wait to try to fix a problem. We want to expose them to as much as possible to enrich their lives. We expose them to a wide range of careers bringing in people from the FBI as well as county and state employees.”
Beickert said each program is free and open to all students.
“If you do not have a ride, we will come and get you,” he added.
There is no lack of activities for these campers.
Depending on the camp a student attends, they might learn about and how to handle reptiles, visit a Coast Guard base, tour the Currituck County jail, visit a fire department and EMS station, watch a police K-9 demo or even learn CPR.
Beickert said he wanted them to know that there are lots of careers out there and the lack of money should not dictate that they don’t make it to college.
“There are work programs and scholarships,” said Beickert. “Not everybody wants to go. But if a student wants to go to college, they can go.”
Beickert said there are also life lessons where they talk about all the important issues that kids are facing today.
But it’s not all classroom education. They’re having a good time as well.
In addition to the YMCA Alpine Tower, a hectic day’s schedule might include such things as fishing at Jennette’s Pier, Corolla wild horse tours, a day at H2OBX Waterpark or a day at King’s Dominion. Then there’s also archery, hooting a TASER under the watchful eye of a deputy or a visit to a Virginia zoo.
“Lots of planning goes into each camp,” said Large. “We have about 18 students in each camp and we’ve not had to turn anybody down that got their application in on time.”
Beickert said while he and his team are there to help the kids, it’s also been considerable help from the community that has made the program possible.
“The community has helped a lot,” said Beickert. “The Lord has blessed us with people to help us with tours, food and others have helped as well.”
Contributions from the community cover the costs for events and tours that could run as much as $40 and $50 per person at some events. And every kid does multiple events. Since it’s all done on donations, the only money from the sheriff’s budget is for gas for transportation and the salary for Jones and Large.
“Typically our school resource officers would work the road in the summertime,” Beickert explained. “So it doesn’t cost me any additional manpower, or any additional funds, to run these camps. Actually, they are probably spending less money on fuel than they would if they were driving the roads and taking calls.”
“We’ve had some major contributors that make all this possible,” added Large. “Probably the number one donor is Currituck Kids, a non-profit organization. Then there is Hardee’s, county commissioner Bob White who has Bob’s Wild Horse Tours in Corolla, Norman and Carolyn Bibeau with Elan Vacations and Pizzazz Pizza.”
Although he did not have an accurate estimate of the money spent for each camp, Beickert said each year and each camp, the cost is different.
The one sure thing is that the camp is an ongoing enterprise.
“As long as we have the manpower here we will always have this program,” Beickert asserted. “It’s a program the Lord has blessed us with and we’re going to make things happen through people’s donation of money and time.”
Beickert went on to say that in addition to community contributions, the dedication of Jones and Large are a key component to the camp’s success.
“It’s been a wonderful program and I thank the Lord,” Beickert continued. “But mostly you have to have dedicated people to do this. You cannot make people want to do this and these two guys want to do this. They have a desire to work with kids and help people. Otherwise a program like this would never be successful.”
Some of that success can be seen in the students.
“There is a lot of team building,” Beickert explained. “I’ve read reports that most millennials have less than five friends. Zero to five friends. Here, they are building friendships with 20 other kids that I promise they will remember for a long, long time.”
“The day they get there, the kids don’t know each other,” added Jones. “Then they kind of get a feel for what’s going on. By the third day, they are one big group. By graduation day at the end of each camp, you can see how happy the kids are and that they don’t want it to end, they don’t want it to be over.”
Beickert said it is clear that that the camp is good for students socially. Watching them move from being a little apprehensive at first and then by the last day it’s like they are at a family reunion is really amazing. He then recalled how last year on the way back from a horse tour one group broke out into a song. All on their own.
“It’s been a blessing to live where we live and to be able to show these kids that we care about them and want to do things for them,” Beickert continued. “They know once this camp’s over we will always be approachable. We will always be there to help, no matter what. And if we can’t help, we can find who can.”
Beickert, Jones and Large all agreed that the program is destined to grow.
“The enrichment is going to grow,” Beickert continued. “As we get more people to come in we’re going to do more fantastic things.”
That growth may even extend beyond Currituck.
“Other law enforcement agencies have called about the camp,” said Jones. “They are now calling and contacting us asking what we do and how we do it.”
“It’s still in its infancy,” Beickert continued. “This is going to grow into a program that I’m going to need many more officers to help. This is a great location. And the program is going to grow.”
For more information about the summer camp or how you can help the program, call 252-453-8204, or email Beickert at email@example.com.