“Officer Friendly” made regular classroom visits when my three sons were growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan, during the 1970s and ’80s. So, moving here in 1989, I was pleased to learn of the wonderful work Collier County’s Sheriff Don Hunter was doing with his Youth Relations Deputies program.
YRDs have been assigned to our schools since being placed there by Sheriff Aubrey Rogers when he founded the program in 1977. But a program targeting fourth and fifth graders was started by Sheriff E.A. Hendry 16 years prior in 1961. The Collier County Junior Deputies League, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, partners with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to provide the Junior Deputies programs.
In those early days, when the school district was much smaller, there would only be 500 or so junior deputies each year. They would board buses and head to camps out in the wilderness for their unique bonding experiences, such as fishing, with deputies.
Paul Lindabury, a current CCJDL board member, was a Junior Deputy himself as a 10-year-old student.
“It meant a lot to me to be able to connect with the deputies when we got together for our recreational events,” Mr. Lindabury recalled. “It was something I will never forget, and the hamburgers were great.”
Today, under the leadership of Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, the YRD Junior Deputies program reaches more than 11,000 students with inschool programs. CCJDL uses their Camp Discovery for spring break camp and the popular Kids Love Fishing Day every February. This year’s Junior Deputy Day at the Collier County Fair was cancelled due to the coronavirus, a decision impacting 2,600 fourth graders.
“The partnership between the CCJDL and CCSO to provide programming and events for the students in our county reaches all of our children in the fourth and fifth grades,” according to Collier County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kamela Patton. “This interaction creates a climate where children can feel safe in their communities and grow as future citizens by seeing the members of our law enforcement as role models,” Dr. Patton said.
Statistics show that the early start in establishing strong relationships with our youth is making a difference for the CCSO, CCPS and our community. CCSO reports that Collier County has one of the lowest and steadily declining rates for juvenile delinquency in Florida.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement Annual Uniform Crime Report states that juvenile arrests in Collier
County dropped from 288 in 2013 to 172 in 2018.
With all of the success enjoyed by the CCJDL in reaching a total of approximately 100,000 students over time, the future looks even brighter as plans are being made and funds are being raised to build facilities at Camp Discovery, nine miles southeast of Naples.
“The CCJDL acquired the 34 acre site more than 20 years ago to provide children and deputies with a place in the wild to have youth programming,” according to Wayne Arnold, CCJDL’s president. “I am excited that we are now moving toward adding facilities to become a more important resource for our children to participate with deputies in a safe outdoor environment.”
The site contains mature woodlands and an 11-acre lake. When it’s totally built out, at a total cost of $3.5 million, Camp Discovery will include an open-air lodge, a complete kitchen and multiple campsites, interpretive nature trails, a fishing dock, gazebo and bathhouses.
The CCJDL plans to make the site available to various community family and youth groups who wish to use it once the project is completed, hopefully during the 2021-2022 school year.
CCJDL Executive Director Ellie Krier told us that, “Pre-construction work has begun. The cost was covered by the sale of development rights to a neighboring community, a most generous memorial gift from the Salley family, and commitments from the CCJDL board of directors. Now the board is focusing on leadership gifts including naming opportunities for specific enhancements to the site,” she said.