ANDOVER TOWNSHIP — In the midst of a tumultuous fall that included a great deal of angst concerning race relations, Detective Greg Leonhard of the Trumbull Ashtabula Drug Task Force had a revelation.
"I was just walking on the Pennsylvania side of the (Pymatuning) state park and God gave me an idea," Leonhard said.
By the time the walk was completed Leonhard said he had made several telephone calls and the birth of Kids and Cops Campout was well underway.
During the early fall, Leonhard said there was a lot of talk about "Black Lives Matter" and "Blue Lives Matter" and he wanted to do something about it. He said he called Ashtabula County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci and Geneva Police Department Detective Chris Cahill about the idea of a camp focusing on minority students and they were immediately on board.
As the fall moved to winter, they began to firm up plans and area pastors and school officials became involved in planning the event.
"I think it was a great idea," said Sally Bradley, Ashtabula Area City Schools Linkage Coordinator for Closing the Achievement Gap.
Bradley said 28 students attended the event from Ashtabula, Conneaut, Geneva, Mentor, Warren and Willowick.
Steve Sargent, a leader at Hiawatha Church of God in Christ and the director of the Samaritan House, said program coordinators have been meeting once a month to plan the event.
Leonhard said representatives from the drug task force, the Ashtabula County Sheriff's Department, the Ashtabula Police Department, the Geneva Police Department, Ashtabula County Adult Probation, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, the Drug Enforcement agency and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation all participated in the event.
The 8- to 12-year-old boys gathered Friday afternoon and returned home Sunday afternoon experiencing fishing, archery and crafts, Leonhard said. The camp was free for the participating children.
Marquise Black, 12, said it was a fun weekend.
"It's cool," he said.
The minority students were predominantly black, but also included people of Hispanic, Asian and Alaskan heritage, Bradley said.
"In the beginning they (the students) were very apprehensive about speaking to police, but once they conversed with them they wanted to be a cop," Bradley said.
Cahill said that connection is an important part of the program. He said law enforcement officers want to give the students a better perspective of who they are.
Cahill also said it is important for children to know police and consider becoming a law enforcement officer. He said there are few black police officers in Ashtabula County.
Leonhard said the camp was made possible by $1,800 in cash donations and other food and merchandise donations. He said the Pymatuning State Park staff went out of their way to help make the event a success.
Leonhard said the opportunity to have a dialogue is important for people coming from different life experiences and ethnic backgrounds. It is important to break down stereotypes and develop relationships
"We need to sit down and talk," he said.