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Sheriff's Camp Helps Officers Bond With Kids

The scene is Tallahassee’s Leon High School. Right now, it’s also the Leon County Sheriff’s Adventure Camp, students from the Leon County school district are learning CPR and getting lessons on operating an automatic external defibrillator, or AED. Deputies also give lessons on leadership skills, as well as drug abuse and gang prevention. And students build positive relationships with the officers—even calling them by nicknames.

“The deputy at my school, we all call him Big Daddy,” said Abrianna Simmons, a student at Rickards High School.

“Big Daddy” is Deputy Alan Wilson. Each school resource officer gets to nominate kids for the camp. Wilson says he looks for a mix of outgoing and shy students who he thinks can benefit from what the camp offers. And Deputy Jon Etheridge, who goes by the nickname Bubba, says economic factors can also play a role in picking students.

“We’re getting the kids kinda in the middle, where they don’t qualify to go to a free camp, but they don’t have enough money to go to a paid camp.”

The Sheriff’s Adventure Camp is free to students. Those invited may bring their friends, who can also attend for free. Etheridge is the camp’s leader. He says another goal of the camp is to build a bridge between the kids, their community and their resource officers. Students spend time with deputies and get to know them in a relaxed, informal atmosphere.

Forging Bonds of Friendship

In the CPR training on this day, deputies are egging one another on to dance for the students.

During the week-long camp, students take part in activities to benefit their community. For example, students create art projects, which are donated to the Big Bend Hospice. The hospice auctions the paintings off to raise money. The students will also spend a day building a wheelchair ramp at the home of a local resident.  The idea is to teach the students the value of doing good deeds without expecting a reward.

“One of the big things about the camp is paying it forward, and trying to teach the kids the importance of doing things for others, and giving back when, you know, when other people don’t have certain things,” said Deputy Jon Etheridge.

The camp isn’t all instructional. The students also get to go swimming, and try their hands at fishing, archery, rock wall climbing and scuba diving.  Organizers work to introduce students to a variety of experiences.

“We try to hit all kinds of facets of, uh, of life. We do competitions with the kids. We teach them leadership skills. Talk to them about being able to communicate without using words. So it’s a very positive, well-rounded camp,” said Etheridge.

Students see other benefits to the camp.

“I like helping people. And I like to try new things, like scuba diving. That was a very nice experience,” said Godby High School student Racquel Hughes. 

Then-sheriff Eddie Boone and his under-sheriff Larry Campbell, along with current Leon County School Superintendent Jackie Pons, started the camp almost thirty years ago to reward students for good behavior.

The camp lasts two weeks, with the first week devoted to the boys and the second week devoted to the girls. The boys’ camp was last week, and the girls’ camp is happening this week. The camp culminates with a trip to Shipwreck Island water park.