With a hearty, “Good morning, gentlemen,” and handshakes all around, five members of the Carlisle Police Department — the “big brothers” — met the middle school boys who will be their “little brothers” Friday morning.
The officers are participating in a program called “Bigs in Blue” through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region. As “Bigs in Blue,” officers will spend time as mentors to students at Wilson Middle School.
Once a week, the officers will meet the boys at the school to guide them through the maze of choices facing a middle-school aged boy.
“You guys are beginning now to form things for the rest of your life. Things you learn now are going to be important for you in the future, things like discipline, things like respect, how to carry yourself, how to talk to people,” Carlisle Police Chief Taro Landis told the boys.
There are eight “Bigs in Blue” programs in the capital region, but the one in Carlisle is the first of its kind. Barrie Anne George, the director of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Cumberland and Perry counties, said the program typically matches officers with children in second or third grade. Landis, however, asked that the officers work with middle schoolers.
“These kids are at that ‘Y,’ at that crossroad” George said. “In second and third grade, it’s very preventative and a lot of education. These boys are making choices every day.”
Landis said officers are reaching out to the boys while they are making decisions.
“That’s the toughest time. That’s when they’re making decisions that’s going to affect the rest of their life. If you can give them that extra push into teenhood, it would be better,” he said.
George said she approached Landis about the program when he was sworn in, and he quickly agreed. After presentations to the officer, five stepped up to be mentors, and George said this is likely only the beginning. The programs often start with a few acting as a “pilot group” with others joining them later.
It’s also possible that the launch of the Carlisle program will open doors in other districts.
“Every time we kick off and people hear about it, we get a call from another department,” George said.
The capital region service area is preparing for its first-in-the-nation program that will partner troopers from the Pennsylvania State Police with students. The state police chose a dozen officers throughout the service area to participate. Locally, there will be two female troopers from the Carlisle Barracks who will be matched up with girls from Letort Elementary School, George said.
In addition to providing mentoring and guidance, the Bigs in Blue program also aims to humanize the police so that young people increase their level of comfort around them, and see them as people they can admire, trust and ask for help, George said.
“We want to build relationships, and that’s what we want to do with the whole community,” Landis said. “The time to build the relationship is before crisis.”
That effort stretches beyond the five boys in the program as the whole school will see the officers as they join their littles in the cafeteria for lunch or walk through the halls on the way to meet their littles.
George said she would like to see similar programs for other professionals.
“It really could be any helping profession. We’d love to see firefighters do this,” she said.
Carlisle’s “Bigs in Blue” program is made possible by a grant from the Partnership for Better Health. The Partnership awarded Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region $10,000 to provide the match support case management that makes Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mentoring successful.