Collaboration is key in community outreach, but securing good volunteers can be challenging. The Kanabec County Sheriff’s Office was looking for helpers for the “Shop with a Cop” program— a program that pairs underprivileged children with shopping companions to buy needed items during back-to-school time or the holidays. Deputy Justin Strom was initially reluctant to volunteer.
My biggest hesitation was my time,” he said. “Officers work many different schedules and spend a lot of time away from our own families as it is, so to volunteer on our days off seemed difficult.”
Despite his reservations, Strom agreed to help. As he prepared to shop, a boy told him that he had never owned a new pair of shoes and always wore hand-me-downs. Strom imagined that a new pair of shoes would be the first item on the list. Instead, the young shopper asked for Strom’s help to work out a budget so he could buy bed pillows for each of his family members because not everyone in his house had one.
Deputy Strom’s attitude about volunteering for “Shop with a Cop” completely changed that day. “Showing kids that there are people in their community that care about them is great,” Strom says. “The program helps teach many of the kids how to budget and shop.” Strom appreciates that his department supports this opportunity for officers to connect with local youth and build positive relationships.
“Shop with a Cop” is part of the Kanabec County Sheriff’s Office’s “Building Awareness to Develop, Grow, and Educate our Society” (BADGES) initiative. From the onset, program founder and former County Sheriff, Steve Schultz, saw collaboration as central to achieving the mission of BADGES.Schultz believed all sheriff’s department employees could positively interact with the public in enjoyable community activities where both employees and citizens could participate.For example, sheriff department employees and community members are able to run in the annual “Running with the Law” 5k race or volunteer to help with it. Proceeds from the race benefit other outreach efforts in the county.
Most importantly, BADGES seeks to change any negative perceptions about deputies that Kanabec County’s citizens may retain based on media influences or past family experience with law enforcement. One of BADGES’ goals is for youth to see officers as sources of help and guidance, and the program provides public training, education, and support through positive, volunteer-driven activities.
BADGES has come to flourish in Kanabec County, with now nearly weekly events and ongoing outreach efforts, including a fishing day, an annual 5k race, summer movies in the park, and much more.
Christine Sand from Mora High School says BADGES’ positive community impact reaches beyond just fun. “BADGES is a reason our community is safer and law enforcement is more approachable.” Amber Aasen, Ogilvie High School counselor, agrees: “BADGES staff reach out to stay involved within the school. If I need help with an event, they will be the first to volunteer with smiles on their faces. Building these relationships has been so beneficial.”
Ashley Meier, BADGES coordinator, hopes more community members start to volunteer alongside dedicated helpers like Deputy Strom, who now knows with certainty about the positive payoffs BADGES creates for Kanabec County. “People assume you need to be an employee to help, but anyone can volunteer.”
Learn more about BADGES on the Kanabec County website or find the BADGES program on Facebook