Hawks, Cops and Kids Event Has Added Value

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Hawks, Cops and Kids, an annual event co-hosted by Kansas Athletics, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Douglas County and local law enforcement agencies conducted business as usual Saturday morning, but perhaps the most important outcome wasn’t even on the agenda or directly addressed. Saturday’s event consisted of the usual classroom sessions promoting safety online and in-person, recess activities led by Jayhawk student-athletes, and a hands-on tour of several patrol cars before a much-needed lunch, but the greatest takeaway might have been happy faces all around after a positive engagement between law enforcement and some of the most vulnerable members of the community it protects and serves.

Hawks, Cops and Kids has always been about promoting education, safety, awareness and healthy living, as it was on Saturday as more than 60 Kansas student-athletes volunteered along with law enforcement agencies to meet between 70 and 100 children from the community. Recent national events have highlighted incidents of tension with law enforcement and have led to a more negative perception of those agencies as a whole as noted by volunteers inside KU’s Robinson Center.

“I’m having so much fun – we were starting a chant over here and dancing,” Kansas women’s basketball guard Lauren Aldridge, a SAAC representative and team leader Saturday, said. “It’s a really cool deal for all the kids, they get to experience law enforcement in a whole new way. I feel like right now in America, everyone has this shift in the perception of law enforcement and how helpful they are to us. It’s really cool that these kids get to come out and be active, get a new perspective, learn how to protect themselves – it’s really important.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Lawrence Police Department Officer Sutagee Angling, one of the classroom instructors presenting on internet safety.

“The more positive contacts we can have with people, the better,” Anglin, who has also contributed to the community through coaching youth football, said, “especially with all the negative reports in the media going on across the nation – it truly does help.”

Participants were assigned to teams based on their age, upon arrival, then were rotated through several stations. In the gymnasium, Jayhawk student-athletes played games like kickball, knockout and tag, among others, before the groups rotated through a pair of classroom sessions where participants learned about bullying and online safety and general safety tips regarding strangers.

Under the supervision of several patrol officers, participants were also allowed to turn on the siren and speak through a patrol car’s loudspeaker in the back parking lot of the Robinson Center.

Anglin’s internet safety session aimed to raise awareness among participants of a number of dangers online and to promote best practices in terms of username and password safety, obtaining parental permission, being cautious when accepting or downloading files, and reporting suspicious activity to parents or guardians.

“Considering the age of the kids we’re dealing with today, it’s more about making them aware of potential dangers online,” Anglin said. “We talk about stranger danger and how you wouldn’t necessarily go out and talk to strangers in public. The same principles apply online, you don’t know who you’re actually talking with.”

“I see it as a growing concern for all ages, I truly do. Typically, as we grow older and more mature, we make better decisions, any kind of awareness that we can get out there helps.”

Each participant received a Hawks, Cops and Kids t-shirt, many of which were autographed later at a post-event autograph session by Kansas student-athletes, and had lunch provided. This year, a nutrition information session was added, and proceeded the groups’ meal together.

The annual event is spearheaded by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Douglas County, which aims to serve more than 300 children in the area, but many are on waiting lists, in need of a volunteer. The need for male role models and volunteers is especially high.

“This is my favorite event, just because I love seeing the kids happy – the smiles on their faces when they’re playing with the athletes, it’s exciting,” Mark Gordy, BBBS senior match support specialist said. “Some of our boys have been on our waiting list for up to three years. We have a big disconnect between how many boys we have coming into the program and how many male mentors we have signing up. About 70 percent of the kids we have coming into the program are boys and 30 percent of the people just inquiring about volunteering are men. We’re always looking for ways to recruit more men.”

Prior to being drafted by the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles this year, Kansas football defensive back JaCorey Shepherd served as a Big Brother mentor and participated in the Hawks, Cops and Kids event. To learn more about getting involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Douglas County, visit http://douglas.kansasbigs.org.

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