Youth safety academy graduates 10

Published 10:46 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Youth Public Safety Academy graduates pose for a photo with City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn, Deputy Fire Chief Ed Taylor, Mayor Linda T. Johnson and Police Chief Thomas Bennett.

Ten young people. Eleven weeks. And 95 feet in the air on a firefighters’ ladder truck.

Those were the numbers most often mentioned at the Youth Public Safety Academy graduation Tuesday night. The event culminated 11 weeks of activities by the group, which spent the time learning about what police and firefighters do every day.

But the best rewards from the program are more intangible than numbers — things like leadership, teamwork, relationship-building and the value of commitment.


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Leaders from both the Suffolk Police Department and Suffolk Department of Fire and Rescue said they hoped those skills would eventually carry the 10 graduates to careers in public safety.

“I hope one day we’ll see you either at the fire department or the police department,” Police Chief Thomas Bennett said.

Fire Investigator Pam King agreed.

“Certainly, we would love to see our youth end up in public safety professions,” she said.

The young people met twice a week for 11 weeks to enjoy hot meals, mentorship by public safety officers and a variety of activities — trust-building exercises, police dog demonstrations, crime scene investigation techniques, using fire extinguishers and even riding on a ladder truck 95 feet in the air.

“It was quite an invigorating experience,” said Caleb Rose, one of the graduates. “You could see half of the city of Suffolk from it.”

Graduates Kadaris Overton and Alexus Wilson agreed the ladder was their favorite part of the academy. The most challenging part, Overton said, was “the worm.”

“It was dark and cold,” he said. The worm was a confined-space challenge that required the graduates to crawl through a flexible tunnel.

For Alexus, the hardest part of the academy was the police dog demonstration.

“I’m scared of those dogs,” she said.

The Youth Public Safety Academy began in 2007 after a spate of youth-involved violence in the city. The city’s public safety officers were looking for a way to interact positively with young people before they get in trouble.

At-risk youth apply to the program, which is sponsored by a number of agencies and businesses. Leaders from the fire department, police department and Western Tidewater Community Services Board act as mentors.

As a finale to the academy, graduates got to choose a ride-along on either a police car or a fire truck.

The group also devised, organized and carried out a public service project, collecting 156 items for the Suffolk Animal Shelter.

“We thank you, and our animals thank you,” Bennett told the graduates Tuesday night.

The young people also heard from the mayor and city manager at their graduation.

“You are already an example to the youth in our community,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said. “You have much to be proud of.”

“Please remember, it only takes one person to change your life — you,” City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said.