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Bigs in Blue kicks off in county

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    Lorain Police Officer Kyle Shawver plays with students at Altitude Trampoline Park, in Elyria, during the Bigs in Blue kickoff event on Wednesday evening, January 31.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Lorain police Sgt. Dennis Camarillo does a flip at Altitude Trampoline Park in Elyria, with the encouragement of Nehmiah Burgos, 11, of Avon, and his brother Josh, 15, on Wednesday evening during the Bigs in Blue kickoff event.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Lorain Police Officer Reuben Figueroa jumps at Altitude Trampoline Park, in Elyria, with his son Mikhael, 3, during the Bigs in Blue Kickoff event on Wednesday evening, January 31.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Lorain County students participated in the Bigs in Blue kickoff event at Altitude Trampoline Park, in Elyria, on Wednesday evening, January 31. The Bigs in Blue program is a one-to-one mentoring program where students are able to connect with police officers to build lasting relationships.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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ELYRIA — Approximately a dozen off-duty officers were dispatched to Altitude Trampoline Park on Wednesday with an advisory: Bring trampoline socks.

In coordination with Mentoring Month, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lorain County invited officers from the Lorain and Elyria police departments to jump with local youths and learn more about the organization’s most recent initiative, called Bigs in Blue.

The program, which partners active and retired officers with local youths of color in one-on-one mentorships, was designed to “bridge the gap between minority communities and officers,” said program officer Giovanna Kallas.

“There’s a climate in our nation between minority communities and officers, where police are not seen as a resource,” Kallas said. “But we don’t want it to be like that here. We want kids to see that officers are friends, support systems and regular people like you and me, only they wear a uniform.”

But the program also was designed with Lorain County officers in mind.

Lorain police Sgt. Dennis Camarillo, decked out in a SWAT T-shirt, eagerly joined youngsters on the trampolines. He said such interactions go a long way in helping kids see him in a different light.

“A lot of times when the police show up at a person’s home, it’s because they are not having a good day or the circumstances are not that good. That can leave a bad impression on small children,” he said. “They may not understand exactly what is going on and why we are there. But that is why we want to do things like this. We want them to see that is not all we do. We also do positive things and want to have a positive influence in their lives.”

Lorain Officer Eric Alten shared the sentiment, and likewise found the activities of the trampoline park and kids willing to hang out a bit hard to pass up. He said one-on-one mentoring can have such a lasting impact on a child because anyone that is responsible enough to be a role model to kids is a great influence.

“The program in general, even looking outside our career, is extremely important,” he said. “Just to have people who are there, present and willing to make that connection, is key.”

Bigs in Blue has been implemented in several urban areas — including Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Dallas — starting in November 2016. But Kallas said this is the first time the program has been launched in a smaller county, and in Ohio.

That’s thanks to a grant from the Ohio Department of Juvenile Justice and the Community Foundations of Lorain County, which Kallas said helped to fund the pilot program and last night’s event at Altitude Trampoline Park.

Contact Lucas Fortney at 329-7155 or ctnews@chroniclet.com.

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