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Camp gives kids new experiences, relationships
Badges for Baseball program pairs law enforcement with Boys & Girls Clubs
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Gainesville police officers Kevin Holbrook and Joe Britte are well-trained in the art of establishing a perimeter.

That skill proved useful last week as they attempted to control a bunk of excited sixth-graders.

Holbrook, Britte and Chuck Graham, a unit director with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County, spent a week away from their normal duties, acting as chaperones and coaches for a group of Hall County children at a Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation baseball camp in Baltimore.

"They went above and beyond just trying to provide a wonderful experience for the kids," Graham said.

"(The camp used) baseball as the hook, but it really taught our kids a lot about leadership."

The five-day trip, which concluded Friday, was part of the Badges for Baseball program, which pairs at-risk youth with law enforcement officers.

Some 100 Gainesville children took part in the program, spending time with police officers each week in the classroom and on the baseball diamond.

Of those who participated, eight of the most committed and well-behaved were chosen to make the trip.

"At that age it's really important for us to be involved in their lives," Holbrook said, comparing the children to sponges who soak up everything around them. "That's where we're seeing they're starting to develop the curiosity, experiment with drugs and actually join gangs."

Even before the camp started, the kids were experiencing new positive opportunities.

"Most of them didn't even believe they were going to get to fly on a plane," Holbrook said. "They thought we were playing around with them. Then we got to the airport and you could see the nervousness in them. ... Then as the plane began to take off, it was just screams and yells."

As soon as they arrived in Maryland, the kids joined nearly 150 other campers from around the country and were outfitted in all the baseball equipment they could dream of.

"Just about every kid in the cabin wanted to sleep in their uniform that first night because they were that excited about the next day," Holbrook said. "It was every night we had to tell them, ‘You can't sleep in your uniform. We'll make sure we get you up in time.'"

When they were finally allowed on the field, the kids learned baseball skills and played games against other teams within the camp.

Many of the children had never played baseball before, but Britte said that didn't stop them from developing a love for the game.

Three campers from Hall County who had previously only played soccer were even awarded a coin for most improved throughout camp.

"That Tuesday, when we first got on the ballfield, we were watching them even try to catch a ball," Holbrook said. "Then, by the end of the week, they're out there hitting homeruns out of these parks."

But the lessons learned extend far beyond the baseball diamond.

Britte said the campers were able to build relationships with police officers, tearing down barriers that often exist between law enforcement and youth.

They were also exposed to life lessons through leadership and teamwork exercises.

"It taught them how to come back to the community and be a leader and not necessarily be a follower," Holbrook said. "That's something they can bring back and teach to their peers and fellow youth. We may have only been able to take eight kids up there, however, the number of kids touched by this program is unknown because the kids bring all this stuff back to the community."


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