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East Lyme - A group of police officers and students will embark next weekend on a day of outdoor adventure featuring team-building activities - from rope courses to a giant swing - to foster trust between youth and the police.
"The program is designed to create a positive relationship between the youth in our community and police officers in a non-police setting," said Director of East Lyme Youth Services Dave Putnam.
The town received a $2,500 "Reaching for Respect" grant from The Youth Development Training and Resource Center at The Consultation Center Inc. at Yale University to design the cooperative event.
The YDTRC has distributed more than 50 mini-grants to communities throughout the state, from Hartford to Montville, since 2009, said staff consultant Ingrid Colón. The grant's uses vary, but they all aim to use team-building activities to develop relationships between youth and police, as well as encourage student leadership.
The event, which will take place on Sunday, aims for students to "have a positive experience with the police officers and put a name on a face and have a relationship with the local police department without it being adversarial," said Putnam.
Ultimately, the hope is that if students are ever in trouble, there would be a level of trust and established communication so students would feel comfortable reaching out to the police, he said.
East Lyme Police Officer Dana Jezierski said she hopes the program will improve how police and youth view each other and build trust between them.
''Youth's first encounter with police is especially important because it is during this encounter that their views and attitudes are shaped,'' she wrote in an email interview. ''Instead of seeing us merely as an authoritative or punitive figure this program will allow us to be equals and start to build a respect for one another. We are going to be participating in obstacles that are challenging and even a bit scary and we are going to have to work together and support each other to get through it. It will be an experience that we will share together and hopefully bond over.''
''Instead of our first interaction being a negative one as they so often are, it will be positive and we will have a lot of fun doing it.," she added. "I also hope that this program will open the lines of communication between police and youth not just during the ropes courses, but afterwards as well.''
In addition to this youth initiative, the town also began a Juvenile Review Board about a year ago, which offers alternatives to the juvenile court system for first-time offenders. For example, a student could write a paper or do community service, rather than go through the courts.
"It's been a very positive diversion from the juvenile court system," said Putnam. "We're off to a good start."
For the free event, which takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., up to 30 middle school and high school students will be taken by bus from town to Farmington. Lunch and snacks will be provided. For more details on the "Reaching for Respect" program or to register, students can contact the Parks and Recreation office at (860) 739-5828. More information on the Youth Development Training and Resource Center is available at www.ydtrc.org