photos by TOM SCOTT Rockford’s sixth annual National Night Out offered fun for families, free food and plenty of opportunity to play with law enforcement officers and firefighters. National Night Out 2011 in downtown Rockford included a giant cake with plenty for everyone, food grilled by local firefighters, and chances to dunk Rockford police and firefighters in the water with a popular dunk tank. The event is held annually to celebrate safety and is a time for individuals and families to get to know the local people who fight crime and help keep our community safe.
by BETH ALTENA Santa, police and plenty of smiles marked the seventh annual Shop with a Hero event at the Rockford Meijer Sunday, Dec. 12. All on volunteer time, Rockford police, usually with the help of a spouse or family member, enjoyed helping children choose items from a list of necessities and at least one treasured toy of their choice. Each Christmas season the officers, assisted by a spouse, friend or family member, help children from Rockford schools choose items such as boots, hats, snowpants, pajamas and more, working off a list of needed items provided by parents or guardians. The Rockford Lions Club, one of the service organizations that donate to Shop with a Hero, also turns out on the day of the event to assist. According to Lynda Nance, who joined the Rockford Lions in October, the event is just one of many causes the group supports. “My dad was a Lion for over 30 years. When Polly VonEschen invited me to join, I decided it was time,” she said. “All we do is raise money and do good things. It’s a great group and so much fun.” This year’s Shop with a Hero was the first for Officer Mike Thomas. “It’s fun to shop with other people’s money,” he said. “It’s fun getting things that people need.” Fifth-grader Zachary Smith said he felt lucky because his Shop with a Hero was Dave Jehnzen, who is Rockford’s D.A.R.E. officer. Smith said he believes the lessons he learned in D.A.R.E. will stay with him all his life. One of the techniques the program taught him is to “give the cold shoulder” when pressured in a bad situation. “You just turn and walk away. You don’t have to say a thing.” Meijer Store Director Phil Morrow said many Meijer stores hold similar events with police, ambulance and fire department personnel. The company annually donates tens of thousands of dollars for the program. “It’s the right thing to do,” Morrow said. “This is touching the community, giving back and helping these families out. These people probably shop here every day.” Morrow also pointed out that the kids invariably pick out items for someone else, a sibling or friend. “They aren’t just buying things for themselves, they […]
“Especially with the officers in uniform, the kids can sometimes be a little afraid of their officer,” she said. In addition to helping a family which may be struggling financially this year, building public relations is part of the purpose. “We hope the children remember this positive experience with a police officer,” said police volunteer Carol Delp-Korzeja. Rockford Meijer Store Director Phil Morrow gave each child a $5 gift card and asked that they use it to buy something for someone else. “We have done this since the store opened and we will continue to do it,” he said. “It’s about helping families the people who come here to shop. We want to give back and help a family celebrate the holidays.”
Ride along with Rockford Police, answer questions from downtown visitors, write out a ticket for someone parking illegally in a handicapped parking space. These are among the duties of Rockford’s volunteer police force and you are welcomed to join up. According to Michigan’s Volunteer of the Year Linda Crone, who is a loyal member of the team who logged in over 500 volunteer hours on the force in 2008, the job is rewarding. “It’s pretty flexible, you can volunteer for many different duties, such as the Rockford Youth Night Out this Friday. We check on people’s homes when they are out of town and visit shut-ins. I’m pretty nosy so it all looks interesting to me,” Crone said. Crone enjoys riding around Rockford in the police jeep in the winter and in the golf cart in the summer. Volunteers can hit the White Pine Trail to watch for mischief or a chance to offer help or enjoy a day at the Welcome Center at 12 Squires Street. There visitors ask for everything from advice on where to go to eat to directions. “Husband and wife teams are allowed, so you can be on patrol together. It’s good for retirees. I’m a very friendly person, so I love it because you get to meet so many people and talk.” Crone points out that the Police Department is careful their volunteers aren’t put in dangerous situations that the more trained officers sometimes face. They will never be expected to make an arrest, take part in a chase or confront obnoxious individuals. The police do the hard work and let the volunteers enjoy the “lighter side” of police work. “There’s nothing rocket science about it,” said Crone. “Anyone can do it.” Applications are available at the Welcome Center and training is provided by the Rockford Police. Crone said her training consisted of a few drive-alongs with the police and advice on how to handle different situations. The volunteer force consists of 15 members currently and members are only required to put in 16 hours a month. “It’s a lot of fun. I love the summer when we get to ride up and down the White Pine Trail in the golf cart.”