At first glance, you might think the Oregon City Police Department’s Summer Camp was just a lot of games, projects and high-energy hijinks.
You might think it was a just a way for 33 campers coming into grades three through five to meet at Gaffney Lane Elementary School and forge friendships with kids from across town.
And you might think the camp, which ran July 24 through 28, was just a week of organized field trips around the city.
But you’d be selling the camp short – very short.
“A lot of the campers come from homes where they experienced adverse effects of things like poverty and domestic violence,” said Officer Spencer Rohde, one of OCPD’s two school resource officers. “The camp gives us a chance to build a rapport with them, so they can learn that cops are people who can help them, people who can protect them and keep them safe.”
Officer Dave Plummer, the other school resource officer, said laughter is the lubricant that kept the camp working on some very important tasks.
“This camp gives them some structure and guidance,” Plummer said. “It also gives us a chance to pick up on who may need a little extra attention.”
Several of the campers were identified as at-risk students by counselors at the Oregon City School District’s elementary schools – Beavercreek, Candy Lane, Gaffney Lane, Holcomb, Jennings Lodge, John McLoughlin and Redland. Five campers were from police families, growing up in a stable environment with solid values. The rest were selected through a first-come, first-serve application process.
The camp’s 12 counselors generally were Oregon City High School students who had gone through earlier camps, themselves.
“Being a counselor gives me experience with leadership and helping kids out,” said Megan Heryford, 17, daughter of Officer Steve Heryford.
Megan’s 19-year-old sister agreed.
“I want to be a good leader for the kids and a good role model,” said Shelby Heryford, who is studying criminal justice at Clackamas Community College. “I like kids, in general.”
True to form, the 2017 camp was action-packed. Campers enjoyed field trips to Oaks Amusement Park in Southeast Portland and Kellogg Bowl in Milwaukie, followed by a party at Jimmy O’s Pizzeria.
They also witnessed demonstrations of an armored SWAT vehicle, the police department’s drone and OCPD’s K9 Unit. A Clackamas Fire District 1 engine and crew made an appearance to explain the equipment on board and offer fire-safety tips.
Besides daily sports and games, campers regularly chatted with Officers Rohde and Plummer, hearing about developing health self-esteem and the value in setting personal goals and resolving conflicts with others. They were encouraged to excel individually while practicing teamwork.
But the most popular activity was making gooey, brightly colored “slime” in sandwich bags, then making sounds of mock disgust while squeezing the bags.
The camp was started in 2001, but took a break from 2004 to 2006, when the entire Police Department was focused on solving the murders of 12-year-old Ashley Pond and 13-year-old Miranda Gaddis. After Ward Weaver pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty, the camp resumed.
“And it’s gone on every year since,” said Chris Wadsworth, OCPD’s public outreach coordinator. “It’s well supported by the community.”
Wadsworth said food was provided by Gladstone’s Two Girls Catering and BBQ, which took care to ensure balanced meals.
“The camp also received a donation from the Oregon City Woman’s Club,” Wadsworth said. “They’ve been very generous over the years, donating to the camp.”
When the camp concluded, each camper got a big picture book, a keepsake to remind them of the lessons, friendships and fun that made summer 2017 one to remember.