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Nonprofit profile: More than 100 local fourth graders get an opportunity to ‘Shop With a Cop’

Money raised for reward shopping trip comes from annual golf tournament at Coyote Creek Golf Club

Published in the Dec. 21, 2016 – January 3, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Marty Cheek

Photo by Marty Cheek: Jordyn Richard selects items with officer Troy Hoefling during the Shop With a Cop event.

Jordyn Richard paced around with excitement as she went through the toy aisles of the Morgan Hill Target store Tuesday Dec. 13. Accompanying her during the 9 a.m. special shopping expedition was Morgan Hill police officer Troy Hoefling.

The 9-year-old Barrett Elementary School fourth grader later stepped out of the store with a bag filled with items including a scarf, a box of candy canes, a Minecraft storybook, crayons, a squishy ball and a Pie Face Showdown game.

Richard was one of the guests of the Morgan Hill Police Officers Association at its second annual “Shop With a Cop” shopping trip for local students in the Morgan Hill Unified School District.

Last year, 108 children participated and this year the number rose to 122 children who went through the local Target store with uniformed police officers to spend up to $100 each. Funds for the program were raised by the association’s charity foundation’s annual Coyote Creek Golf Course tournament in October, said MHPD Sgt. Carlos Guerrero.

What was the best part of the Shop With a Cop adventure, Richard was asked.

“Going around and having fun,” she said with a toothy grin.

And what did she think about the opportunity provided by the association to go shopping?

“I’m grateful that I got so much stuff.”

Hoefling added: “Guess what? I’m grateful, too, because I got to hang out with you.” And he and Richard gave each other a high five.

Police Chief David Swing helps Jorge Robledo, 10, select toys from Target during the Shop With a Cop event. Photo by Marty Cheek

Another 9-year-old fourth grader, Agustin Giorge from San Martin Gwinn Environmental Science Academy, found himself trying on a pair of cool sports shoes with cop Captain Jerry Neumayer serving as his store guide. The boy admired how they looked on his feet.

Karen Claxcaltezo, a fourth-grader from Los Paseos Elementary School, toured the store with officer Mario Ramirez. She wore the “I Shopped With a Cop” T-shirt in blue and a festive elf hat that the students received.

“My cousin went last year. He said it was fun. He brought home some video games,” she said, and added that she was thankful at the opportunity to go holiday shopping with Ramirez. “Some kids don’t get this trip and the kids who get it should be grateful that they got it.”

Jorge Robledo, 10, from Los Paseos Elementary School, had the privilege of going through the store with MHPD Chief David Swing to search for items to buy. He picked out gel coloring pens for his sister and the Connect Four game for himself.

“Us and the cops work hard,” he said, explaining why he and the other students got to go to Target.

The children selected to participate in the Shop With a Cop are being rewarded for excelling in school, being good leaders in their classroom, home and community, being kind and making good decisions, Guerrero said.

The shopping trip lasts about 30 minutes per child, enabling the children to have a positive contact with a law enforcement official. Often, they share that experience with their school buddies, encouraging them too.

Other police departments in the Bay Area have Shop With a Cop programs and so the police officer association decided to try it for the first time last year at the Morgan Hill Target. It proved a perfect way to give back and make friends with the young kids and make a positive connection with them, Guerrero said.

Shop With a Cop was so popular with both the students and the officers that the foundation made it an annual holiday tradition, he said. The participating Morgan Hill officers were all off-duty, he said.

“This is the most fun we get to have with kids,” Guerrero said. “Usually when we have contact with kids, it’s sometimes negative or scary at times. And this is an opportunity to have fun on a fun day. It’s our one-on-one time where kids get to understand that we’re just normal people too.”

The interaction in a fun retail store setting also helps create a mind-set of trust with young people and helps them break down a possible fear of law enforcement officers.

“It breaks the barrier. This is the time where they can talk to the officer and see that the officer is a good guy,” Guerrero said. “Kids have been afraid of cops. They see the police car. And so we thought about ways to break that barrier, and this seems like the most fun that we can think of.”

The trip is also a reward for the children if they show good character and leadership qualities in the classroom and at home, he emphasized.

“They have to be good at school,” he said. “This is all based on behavior, leadership traits and if they act kind to others. It’s not just grade but how well they’re doing, so if they’re progressing in school, it’s OK too.”

Agustin Giorge, with help from Capt. Jerry Neumayer tries on a pair of shoes during the event. Robledo and Jorge were two of the 122 children who participated in the second annual event. Photo by Marty Cheek

The police officers chose fourth graders for the shopping tour because studies show that between fourth and fifth grade children decide on their behavior patterns — are they going to be good kids or are they going to have some issues in life, Guerrero said.

Thirteen kids participated from El Toro Elementary School, said Principal Darren McDonald who waited outside Target for the students to finish their shopping trip.

“The officers are really clear that this is a reward for those values that embody what a police officer holds dear in their job,” he said. “And so what this does is validate students who work hard in the classroom, are leaders at home and in the community. They are not necessarily student body officers, but they show leadership and get along with their peers and are problem solvers.”

Although the foundation accepts money throughout the year for its charitable activities, its primary fundraiser is the Morgan Hill POA Charity “Fall Classic” Golf Tournament where for a $150 entrance fee people can play golf at Coyote Creek Golf Course, Guerrero said. The fee includes the green fee for 18 holes on the Coyote Creek Golf Club’s Jack Nicklaus Valley Course, a cart, a small bucket of range balls, box lunch, buffet dinner, winning team trophies, Hole-in-One Car Give Away, and Longest Drive/ Closest to the Pin prizes. The number of students who get to shop with a police officer each year is based on how much money is raised in the charity foundation’s fundraising process.

DETAILS

How to help: www.morganhillpoa.com