ORANGE PARK – The late Whitney Houston sang, “I believe the children are our future.” She was right and she wasn’t the only one who believed it.
Episcopal Children’s Services and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office brought life to those words Friday, participating in a joint effort to encourage literacy called Blue4 Books. Students and parents enjoyed a story read by Deputy Damon Hysler in their classroom. Hysler was joined by other members of the CCSO from the Public Information Office and Community Affairs sections.
Demica Davis, an outreach coordinator at Episcopal Children’s Services, is a member of Literacy Pro and learned of their program Blue4Books.
“I went out to see how the program works at a library and felt a strong need to implement the program here at our childcare facility,” Davis said. She pitched the idea to ECS admin and parents, then reached out to the CCSD to find out if they could assist.
It turned out that they were more than willing.
“Our parents were on board from the start,” said Davis. “When we reached out to the sheriff’s department, they were on board as well. In fact, they wanted to do it right away. We were pleased with that.”
Between ECS getting everything worked out, it took about a month to make the event happen.
The children looked excited to see the police officers in their classroom and sat quietly on the carpet as Hysler read to them, occasionally stopping to turn the book around and show illustrations while asking questions to keep them engaged.
Following the book, Deputy Tim Mulvaney handed out small squishy Cowboy Hats to the children as gifts. The two then moved with them to their tables, where they each made paper police badges.
Community Affairs unit Sgt. Matt Magish is a 19-year veteran of law enforcement.
“I’ve always been drawn toward the community engagement aspect of law enforcement, engaging the community, soliciting input, helping target problem areas and helping the community solve problems through programs like this,” he said. “When Mrs. Davis reached out to us a couple of weeks ago, she kind of told us how the program worked and what the goal of the program was. I immediately thought it was a wonderful idea and wanted to get the sheriff’s office involved. We’re always trying to find different ways to mitigate criminal activity and one of those is through literacy programs.”
“It definitely exceeded my expectations,” said Davis of the successful event. “I believe in the demonstration of officers being engaged with our youth on a positive note. I would love to see more of that. Just giving kids that positive outlook on what they can become, it can happen. Literacy is very important. I believe that a lot of crime is due to people not being literate. I would love to see the program implemented at ECS in more of our Head Start programs. It went extremely well today. I
believe it’s the start of restoration in our communities between law enforcement officers and our youth.”