Saturday December 8, 2012

There's a reason Sean Klink isn't a firefighter: He doesn't like heights, he said.

And yet, the Pittsfield Police officer teetered on a slippery, rain-splattered ledge atop the Pittsfield Walmart, waving and calling out to the bustling third annual Cop on Top festivities three stories below him.

"I'm not afraid of falling -- it's the landing part that I'm afraid of," Klink said.

Pittsfield's Cop on Top event, the biggest one in the state, is a fundraiser for Berkshire County Special Olympics and its athletes. Since its inaugural event, support in both the police station and in the community has grown, resulting in bigger fundraising goals being set.

Michele Adler, of Lenox, a Special Olympian for the past 20 years, volunteers Friday during the Pittsfield Police Department’s Cop on Top fundraiser
Michele Adler, of Lenox, a Special Olympian for the past 20 years, volunteers Friday during the Pittsfield Police Department’s Cop on Top fundraiser for the Berkshire County Special Olympics. About $22,000 has been raised so far. (Kayla Galway / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

This year's goal was $55,000, and Pittsfield Investigator and event organizer John Bassi said about $22,000 had been raised by 9 p.m., averaging about $2,000 donated an hour. Officers will be there into the evening today.

Only about 30 Pittsfield Police officers participated in the first year, but Friday's event drew 75 law enforcement officials at the city, county and state level.

"We've come a long way," Bassi said. "We've grown as a family."

Bassi also has a disabled son, a driving force behind his commitment to Cop on Top, he said.

Money that's pumped into the Berkshire County Special Olympics helps fund uniforms and events.

"We don't charge our athletes," said Peggy Harner, the Berkshire County coordinator for Special Olympics. "Here, there's an outpouring of support from so many people."

The officers on top of Walmart made it there through by making a nerve-racking climb up a steel ladder in the back of the store. The roof is a slab of bright white made slick by the rain. An industrial tent, donated by the National Guard and kept toasty inside with a kerosene heater, would keep the officers staying atop overnight warm and sheltered. They would sleep on cots donated by Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler.

Police and volunteers bundled accordingly for the temperatures that hovered around the mid-30s -- cold to be sure, but warm enough to turn snow into rain, and thaw the roof that was slick and icy when Cop on Top began at 7 a.m. Friday, according to many participants.

"I'd rather have snow than rain," Klink said in a bright-yellow police coat. "You get really wet in these things."

Klink has volunteered for Special Olympics since high school, but it's even more important to him now that he has a daughter, almost a year old, that has Down syndrome, he said.

"People enjoy seeing a different side of us," Klink said. "So many people have come out of the woodwork to help. It's all for a great cause."

Anywhere from one to five officers were standing on the roof at a time. They used a microphone to host raffles and incite Christmas cheer for the holiday shoppers streaming in and out of Walmart. Even Santa Claus was there.

As shoppers left with carts full of gifts, they threw some loose change, and even some loose bills, into the buckets held by police officers and Special Olympics athletes and volunteers. Others used their money to participate in raffles or games that lined Walmart's front doors.

The beginning of Friday's fundraiser was signified by the lighting of a torch by 28-year-old Lindsay Blagg, a Special Olympics athlete for 12 years.

Sue Barnes, of Dalton, decides which prize bag to place her raffle tickets in during the Cop on Top fundraiser at the Pittsfield Walmart.
Sue Barnes, of Dalton, decides which prize bag to place her raffle tickets in during the Cop on Top fundraiser at the Pittsfield Walmart. (Kayla Galway / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

Blagg's development disability hasn't stopped her from being a competitive skiier, swimmer, bowler and golfer -- she'll be one of the six Massachusetts representatives at the Special Olympics World Games in South Korea beginning Jan. 24.

"I'm psyched about going and meeting new people," Blagg said. "I've been training."

Bassi will also be heading to South Korea to be one of about 85 law enforcement officials across the globe that will carry the Special Olympics torch.

To reach Adam Poulisse:
(413) 496-6214,
or apoulisse@berkshireeagle.com.
On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse