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Cops treat kids to week of fun at lake

Officers, disadvantaged kids meet at Sunset Lake near Wilkeson

By Shawn Skager

The Courier-Herald

Every August, members of the Pierce County law enforcement community take over Sunset Lake near Wilkeson for the Law Enforcement Youth Camp.

They come from the Washington State Patrol, the Pierce County Sheriff's Department and local agencies from cities such as Lakewood, Fircrest, DuPont, Steilacoom, Tacoma and Puyallup. There are even officers from the Department of Corrections and the military police based out of Fort Lewis.

They don't come for training or to bust anyone, they come for fun. And they don't come alone.

Along with the handful of police officers come more than 100 local kids, disadvantaged youth who would not otherwise have the means to attend a summer camp.

Each officer brings with him three kids he or she may have run across during their everyday beats.

"The requirements for the counselors are that they find three kids from single parent or low-income families," Steve Mauer, a former camp president and Lakewood police officer, said. "They interview them, talk to them and the parents. The names come from school counselors or calls that they have gone to."

"If they look like a good match and seem like they would be open to doing the things at camp, the kids are offered the opportunity (to attend)," he added.

The camp, which takes advantage of the Sunset Lake Camp Summer Camp and Retreat Center, lasts from Monday until Friday.

During that time, campers get a chance to enjoy the lake, with activities such as a rope swing, swimming, water slides and jet skis, as well as the other activities organized by the camp counselors.

Because the camp is geared toward low-income and disadvantaged children from 9 to 11, all costs are covered by the LEYC organization.

"All the money that we have is donated or we fund raise. We do a golf charity tournament and other things," Mauer said. "Tapco Credit Union is a big donator and supporter of the camp."

Mauer, who took time out from a rousing game of whiffleball to talk about the camp said the opportunity to interact with the kids is the true reward for all the officers that attend.

"It's a great opportunity to spend time with the kids that normally we couldn't," he said. "It gives them a different view of police, having fun, instead of stopping them in their car or coming to their house because of trouble."

"Numerous times now, after camp is over and the kids are going you hear the kids say, 'do I have to go home?'" he said. "Then you know they've had a good time and had fun. And that is our whole goal is for them to have a blast."

Trooper J.J. Gundermann, who has participated with the camp for the past three years, agrees that the camp is an opportunity to affect kids and interact in a better situation.

"One of the hardest things to do as a cop, of all the stuff we do, is to put mom and dad in handcuffs in front of the kids," he said. "And the kids look at you with such disgust, because in their minds a hero is taking their mom and dad to jail. It's really neat to take the kids out here and give them opportunity to see cops as people too, have some fun and see us out of uniform. It's good, because we have contact with these kids year round. It allows us to be heroes again."

Shawn Skager can be reached at sskager@courierherald.com.

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