OTIS — What do you get when seven police officers round up a group of nearly 40 kids? At the Kops N Kids camp in Otis, you get a whole lot of fun.
The program brings together police officers from the Otis and Becket police departments, as well as junior volunteers, and members of the local fire and ambulance departments, together to serve as counselors for the April vacation week camps.
Now in its sixth year, Otis Police Chief Roberta Sarnacki, who founded the camp with fellow officers, said it's now clear that the camp's mission is working. She said, "Originally, we just wanted to get to know the kids in the community since a lot of us were new to the police force. We've since watched them grow up, and most of them know us by our first name, and we know them."
This year's program ran this past Wednesday through Friday, during the April school vacation, at no charge to families. The funds come through the town of Otis, and other area grants, as well as a donation from Tom Nadolny, principal of Farmington River Elementary School, where the program is held.
Collin O'Brien, 13, has been with the camp for the past four years, first as a camper, and now as a junior counselor. Asked what keeps him coming back, he said, "The kids in my hometown. I know most of them and it's good for them to have something to do." Among those kids is his younger brother, Matt.
O'Brien said he aspires to be in law enforcement, and said he appreciates "the way the officers talk to the kids and the way they teach us."
Otis Police Officer Chip Whiting has been with the Kops N Kids camp since the beginning, and said he too stays with it for the kids, and as a way "of being part of the community. For us, this is good public relations. We're doing more than writing tickets."
Becket Police Sergeant Marc Portieri said that each of the seven police officers participating in this year's program mentors a group of kids, ages 5 to 12.
Each year, local law enforcement, fire departments, and ambulance services, bring their vehicles to the school to offer tours and equipment demonstrations.
Each year the program also brings in special guests to teach various subjects. This year, Charles Fulco, a science educator and NASA Solar System Ambassador who recently moved to Otis, volunteered to do science activities like demonstrating how next year's solar eclipse will take place, and making solar viewers using boxes donated by the Otis Post Office.
On Friday, they took a field trip to Boston to see the Blue Man Group perform.
Kaitlyn Fennelly, 11, and Ryan Clemo, 12, said they'd probably stay at home all week if it wasn't for the camp.
"It gets you active," said Cassidy Dunn, 12, a second-year camper.
"It's a place where you use time to learn, but don't know you're learning," said John Kruck, 10, a new camper.
Fourth-year camper, Chris Bilotta, 12, said, "It's like when parents put veggies in your burger ... At first I was nervous having cops around, but it turned out to be a good experience."