Thursday marked the beginning of a very meaningful relationship between the Gainesville Police Department and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County with the Badges for Baseball program.
The program mixes "baseball with life skills ... tapping into the youth, building a good foundation and relationship," officer Joe Britte said.
The program is being held at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County on Positive Place in Gainesville from 5-6:30 p.m. Thursdays.
Each week the children are taught different life lessons. Thursday's lessons were sportsmanship, leadership and ethics.
"This is the kind of the age (where) they have to make life choices. Whether to go the right way in life or the wrong way," officer Kevin Holbrook said.
The program is focused on bridging the gap between the Gainesville Police Department and the local youth . Some of the children are from troubled backgrounds, having seen their older brothers arrested by some of the same officers the kids played catch with Thursday night.
Their ages ranged from just a few years old all the way up to middle school.
"This is the prime time for us to be involved in their lives ... Hopefully help them make the right choices and decisions that could ultimately change their life," Holbrook said.
The program has been wildly successful elsewhere.
The program has helped lower crime rates and it has been shown to improve the kids' grades.
"(The kids) have been able to take these life lessons and apply them in multiple ... things in their life," Holbrook said.
A major focus is to show the kids the police are there for their benefit, said Police Chief Brian Kelly. That means putting emphasis on the children coming to the officers with problems in school or at home, he said.
Kelly said the youth is the community future and the department wants to "let them know that police officers are here to help." Kelly said.
The program also involves different officers from different divisions.
Kelly was even on the field playing catch and "(that speaks volumes about what we're trying to do," Britte said.
Gainesville resident Jeff Koch donated two Atlanta Braves tickets for the officers to chose two kids to take to a game. "Everybody needs to go to a professional baseball game," Koch said.
The kids were extremely appreciative. They were thankful they had a chance to play baseball with the police and looked forward to building a relationship with them.
The officers "honestly were kids at heart," Kelly said.