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Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission team up to show area kids a

Irmo, SC (James Bowers) – Many students in Lexington-Richland School District Five’s school district have families who are comfortable in their homes. Their parents may be well educated professionals that normally bring home a nice paycheck. This affords them the comfort that many middle to upper class families in America enjoy. Few may even realize there are significant levels of poverty among the area’s youth.

Cash-strapped parents often do not have the means to place their kids in the afterschool and summer programs and activities taken for granted by their more privileged peers. This puts this sector of the youth at risk for low self-esteem, and sometimes even a bad influence from the wrong crowd. This can lead these youngsters to a dangerous lifestyle. Kids from this demographic are more likely to witness criminal activity and become a part of it themselves.

Around two years ago, David Burns of the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department noticed this issue, and decided to create a program to provide more positive activities for these kids. It was then that the “Summer Adventure Squad” was born.

The program, held during summer break for Lexington-Richland School District Five dedicates itself to bringing these kids into a safe environment filled with good influences. The children, who are students of the district’s elementary schools are bused to ICRC facilities such as beautiful Saluda Shoals Park. These children participate in fun activities such as canoeing in the Saluda River, airplane rides with local pilots at Owens Field, and sports. The children also receive instruction in safety, such as what to do when lost in the woods, and study the local wildlife with volunteer experts.

Burns is always eager to tell anyone who will listen about the good the benefits of these experience for these children. It gives them the opportunity to gain valuable new skills and make lifelong friendships. Children who attend the program are often from single-parent households and many are what’s commonly known as “latchkey kids,” or children that spend extensive time home alone as their parents are working. This makes the mentorships children experience with adults extremely valuable.

The past two years have seen the program expand rapidly, as has its funding. This has allowed the program to serve many more children. Funding for the program is primarily derived from donations of individuals, businesses, and organizations such as the Saluda Shoals Park Foundation. Because of the generosity of these donors, the sheriff’s department is now able to create a version of its summer program that runs during the winter break.

This week, the deputies and volunteers held a special day of activities at Saluda Shoals Park. Participants got to build gingerbread houses, make Christmas ornaments, and ride a train through Saluda Shoals among other fun activities. Though Wednesday was a dreary, rainy day, the kids in attendance at the SAS event were beaming with excitement as they interacted with their friends and mentors from the sheriff’s department.

Deputy Burns says that the opportunity to build a bond between children and law enforcement is a valuable one. “It gives us a chance to show (the children) that we’re just another guy. We want to be a part of their life and help them get through the hard times,” Burns said. “We want to help them get through good times too.” Burns adds that many of the young Summer Adventure Squad members express interest in pursuing a law enforcement career when they get older.

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