Benson Shop With A Cop Program
where life long memories are made
For Jace Tyra, the best part about Saturday morning was riding in a police car with lights and sirens.
"I loved the ride to Walmart." the 11-year-old said. "He (Benson Police Chief Paul Moncada) told me it would be awesome, and it was."
The scene on Fourth Street was nothing short of spectacular Saturday morning as 34 law enforcement vehicles traveled down Benson's main drag, with lights flashing and sirens piercing the early morning air. What may have appeared an emergency to area motorist and bystanders is actually an annual event where youngsters are partnered with a law enforcement officer and treated like celebrities through a program called Shop with a Cop. Introduced to Benson by Denise Celentano, Shop with a Cop in Benson area has ballooned to 34 children since its inception.
Locally, the program treats children to a $125 holiday shopping spree at Walmart and includes the following law enforcement agencies: Benson Police Department; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; Department of Public Safety; U.S. Army Military Police from Fort Huachuca; Commander from Huachuca City and the Cochise County Sheriff's Office. Bright and early on the morning of Dec. 14, the children and law enforcement officers met at the LDS stake center in Pomerene, where they were introduced to each other for the first time. Along with meeting their new law enforcement partner, each child visited with Santa and Mrs. Claus and was treated to a breakfast. From there, the youngsters were transported to the Benson Walmart in a long procession of emergency vehicles to do some holiday shopping.
"Wow, that was pretty intense," smiled 11-year-old Adam Bartkoski immediately after the ride to Walmart. Bartkoski, who was partnered with Officer Frank Griego, had just picked out an X-Box charger for himself, along with some jeans. He still had money left on his $125 gift card for more items.
In addition to the shopping, six lucky children received bicycles through a drawing, with two bikes donated by Lawley Automotive and four by an anonymous donor. Along with the bikes, there were two Dynamic Dance Studio drawings. The children received a $125 gift card which allows them to purchase gifts for themselves as well as family members. Following the shopping trip, the kids return to the church to wrap the gifts with the help of the law enforcement officers and volunteers including ESCAPE the youth group of Community Bible Church (J6). On Saturday, $5,000.00 was spent at the Benson Walmart through Shop with a Cop purchases.
"I love doing this," said Cochise County Sheriff's Deputy Dave Dion, who was partnered with 8-year-old Dawn Metheney.
"You love it because you got me," the youngster piped with a smile.
"I feel like an elf," said Metheney as she and the deputy wrapped gifts together. "I went shopping for my family and for me, so now we'll have more things to open on Christmas."
Ten-year-old Charles Burba was partnered with Department of Public Safety Officer Lane Ciminski. Burba took a moment out of his gift wrapping to show off the bicycle he won.
"It's a moto-bike and I won it in the raffle," he said. " Officer Lane was really excited when I won this. He's my new friend."
Making friends is largely what this program is all about.
"The Benson Shop with a Cop program treats youngsters between the ages of 6 and 12 to a shopping excursion," said Celentano. "The kids are selected from a pool of applications and there is a list of criteria that we follow during the selection process. The first item on the list is that the child has witnessed the arrest of a parent or sibling. Seeing a loved one arrested is extremely traumatic for children, so this program helps children overcome concerns or fears they may have when it comes to law enforcement by providing them with a positive experience with a law enforcement officer."
Celentano also noted some of the children are from needy families where there have been no arrests. Shop with a Cop works closely with other nonprofits in the area to help ensure there is no duplication of families during the holidays, she added. Andrew Reser, a member of the Fort Huachuca's military police, shopped with Emilio Herrera, 9. When asked what he liked most about the shopping trip, Herrera responded with,
"I like all of it. I like the shopping, the ride to Walmart and meeting the officer. It's fun."
Chief Moncada said that every year, he struggles to get up at 4 a.m. on his day off to participate in the program.
"But once you get here and see the kids and all the anticipation, it's more than worth it," she said. "Every single one of these kids has said the ride to Walmart with lights and sirens is the best part of the experience."
With 34 youngsters and officers, this year's Shop with a Cop event was Benson's largest since its inception four years ago. Celentano says it grows more every year and the greatest challenge is finding enough law enforcement officers to meet the program's needs.
"We have an amazing community and incredible volunteers," said Celentano. "Once again, we had a successful event with all 34 law enforcement officers making it a memorable experience for the child. I personally want to say thank you to every business, organization, resident and law enforcement agency that stepped up to support our Fourth Annual Shop With A Cop event."
Dana Cole, Writer for Benson News-Sun~ Published December 17, 2013