Niagara Gazette — A group of children will go holiday shopping with police officers today as part of a program designed to build relationships between area kids and city cops.
Called “Shop with a Cop,” it’s an event created for underprivileged kids by BobbieJoe Feagin’s non-profit organization Mentorship Alive.
When Feagin started Mentorship Alive in 2006, she had one mission in mind, improving the quality of life for at-risk youth and their caretakers in the Niagara Falls area.
“When my husband and I were growing up, Niagara Falls had a lot of places for kids to go,” said Feagin. “At the 13th Street Center, they had arts and crafts, dancing and modeling classes, and if you didn’t want to do that, you could go to the game room. Kids had choices. When I started Mentorship Alive, we didn’t have that for the kids.”
She said many youths these days come from single-parent households. This not only creates a need for places that children can go to be safe and productive, but also a need for extra positive influences in children’s lives, she said.
Then Feagin realized that her original mentoring program was missing the element of one-on-one connections with kids. So she started new aspects to Mentorship Alive, including an All ‘Bout Choices program, and also implementing a Shop with a Cop program.
The Shop with a Cop program, now in its fifth year in Niagara Falls, is designed to help kids form relationships with local law enforcement officers. This year, the children who will be participating will meet at the Doris Jones Family Resource Building.
“The children are selected from the All ‘Bout Choices program. We also call around to other agencies to see if there is a need we can fill,” said Ren Feagin, BobbieJoe’s husband.
The officers will then take the kids for a ride to Walmart in their police cars. Once the children arrive, they will be given $100 gift cards and they and the cops will have about an hour to go through the store and buy gifts for themselves and their families.
“Many of the items the kids grabbed were things like pillows and T-shirts,” said BobbieJoe. “There’s really a need, a lot of them didn’t go for toys, they went for the basic necessities.”
The Feagins say they have seen the experience positively impact the children involved. Many of the kids start young and have now developed relationships with the officers they meet through Shop with a Cop. Ren says the cops relate to the kids just as much as the kids do with them.
“We find that after some time they build bonds,” Ren said. “Although we had $100 gift cards, cops will sometimes go into their own pocket to give more to the kids. They get very generous.”
After the shop, the kids and the officers return to the resource building to wrap their gifts and have a meal before the event comes to a close.
This experience has helped children come to recognize their local police officers as people who are there to look out for them and protect them and not as figures to fear. She says she has seen how these programs have helped to improve many aspects of children’s lives from grades to self-esteem.
“Where ever there’s a need for (a Shop with a Cop program) and there isn’t one, I encourage people to do it,” BobbieJoe said. She added that once they attempted the program in Lockport but had to stop due to a lack of resources.
“There are so many outreaches and not enough manpower,” she said. “If people are willing to help, we’re not an organization that requires a degree or experience, we just want you to have a heart for children.”
Anyone wishing to get involved with Mentorship Alive and its programs can contact the Feagans by phone at 990-8056, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.