The whistle sounds and 40 T-shirted young people sprint across the blacktop at the Stamler Police Academy in Scotch Plains as six instructors urge them on. But these aren’t police recruits. They are middle-school students who signed up for a one-week program of fitness and fun created by the Fanwood Local 123. Get Fit with Fanwood’s Finest was the idea of Chief Richard Trigo and his administrative assistant Dianne Howarth. The two were able to bring the concept to fruition with the help of a $2,000 grant from the First Responders Children’s Foundation and donations from the Union County Prosecutor’s Office Local 250.
“We wanted to get the kids out of the house,” Chief Trigo explained. “So, we said let’s do something where we work out with the kids.”
Trigo approached officers assigned to the Union County Emergency Response Team to come up with an agenda of activities for kids inspired by some of the daily workouts the officers do in their own training.
The two-hour session was not the rigorous, boot-camp-like routine that actually occurs at the police academy, but an informal and relaxed set of basic exercises mixed with field games, tug-of-war and relay races.
“We can make workouts enjoyable,” stressed Officer Elliott Bernard, one of the instructors. “It doesn’t have to be just push-ups, sit-ups and running for hours at a time.”
The five-morning program was free, thanks to the grant. In addition to being an end-of-summer activity, it allowed police officers to reach children in a non-official capacity, creating an investment in future relationships.
“We’re not in uniform, we’re not in that patrol car,” said Sergeant Marc Gottlick. “We’re out here. We’re running relay races with them, giving high-fives and fist-bumps. They’re getting to know us a little more individually.”
“All the officers in Fanwood are approachable,” added the chief’s assistant Dianne Howarth. “Now the kids see it. So, if they ever have a problem, they’re not going to be afraid to come to the police department or reach out to one of the police officers.”
In the last event of the program, a tug-of-war pitted the six officer instructors against a group of kids. Working together, the kids were able to achieve victory.
“You see what you accomplished when you work together?” Chief Trigo said to the students afterward. “Great job, everyone!”