Feb. 22, 2006 - When responding to an emergency call, police are sometimes put in the situation where they have no choice but to separate a child from his or her parent. For these children, seeing a parent get arrested and taken to jail, or taken to a hospital after a car accident, can have a disastrous emotional impact.
A group of students at Ironwood Ridge High School considered what happens to children caught in these situations and started a program to help them cope with being separated from a parent.
The C.O.P.S., or Carry One Package for Support, program created by students provides the Oro Valley police with backpacks filled with supplies that may help a young child deal with a stressful and confusing situation as well as some items that will help a parent or guardian in an emergency. The students filled each of 25 backpacks with coloring books, stuffed animals, diapers, wipes and a support list with helpful contacts such as tow truck companies and shelters.
Oro Valley police also were given four $5 gifts cards donated from Fry's and Safeway supermarkets to distribute as needed.
"We just wanted to give the police something they could use," said Brittany Ramynke, vice president of Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America, or FCCLA, the student group that created the program. "We told the stores how they could help us, and many did."
Oro Valley Police Sgt. Steve Sickelbower said he expects the backpacks provided by the students will fill a role that emergency personnel cannot always provide.
"These things help out immeasurably. On more than one occasion, in a crash, if the parents are being attended by paramedics, then the child isn't really being looked after," Sickelbower said.
A child in an emergency situation is often in a delicate state of mind, and such items can be used in situations as various as a domestic violence call, a car accident scene or anytime a parent must be arrested, said Herb Williams, the Oro Valley Police student resource officer attached to Ironwood Ridge High School.
"The students came to us with the idea, and we've had people donate stuffed animals in the past and that has worked well," Williams said. "When you give something to a smaller kid, it takes their mind off what is happening for a little while at least."
Karen Pentazi, an Ironwood Ridge teacher and advisor for the FCCLA, said the group does various projects such as C.O.P.S. throughout the school year. In the past, the students handed out more than 400 pounds of dog food to homeless pet owners in downtown Tucson, and raised more than $1,000 for Hurricane Katrina victims.
"The students get involved in community problems and try to figure out what the public needs," Pentazi said. "The hardest part is coming up with something that would really be useful."
Sickelbower said donations such as these are rare but very appreciated.
"Before, you wouldn't see people giving items to their local government. These students took the initiative to do something to help their community," Sickelbower said.
Greg Holt is a Staff Writer covering Oro Valley and the Amphitheater School District. You can reach him at 797-4384, ext. 116, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.