Police are workin' it out with youth
If the Workin' It Out program does what it's supposed to do, the younger participants will just forget about what the older ones do for a living. The younger participants are members of Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch's residential program. The older...
If the Workin' It Out program does what it's supposed to do, the younger participants will just forget about what the older ones do for a living.
The younger participants are members of Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch's residential program. The older participants are people the kids often tried to avoid - cops.
So far, Workin' It Out appears to be, well, workin'.
"They're pretty cool for cops," says one 16-year-old participant. "I look at them more as people like us, instead of people you don't like."
The program is a cooperative effort of the Fargo Police Department, the Boys and Girls Ranch and the CHARISM Center.
It started in September, running two sessions twice a week for five weeks. Police officers met eight boys and eight girls in separate sessions at the CHARISM Center, which has a weight room the center bought along with the building from its previous owner, a construction company.
Police Lt. Paul Laney says that when the police opened a southside substation in the CHARISM building at 3350 35th Ave. S., it was initially thought the weight room could be used as a workout area for officers.
But discussions with CHARISM Center officials produced the idea of bringing in kids from the nearby Boys and Girls Ranch residential facility. Laney says it was a chance to give kids an alternative view of officers who previously meant only trouble for them.
The thinking, Laney says, was "what an awesome way for kids to realize cops are not the enemy." At the same time, it would give the kids a chance to develop a "healthy addiction" to exercise and provide a means for them to channel stress in a positive direction.
Not that getting the kids involved was an easy sell.
Eric Wilkie, wellness coordinator for the Boys and Girls Ranch, says he initially spoke to the residents about continuing a summer workout program previously held at the YMCA in the CHARISM building. Only gradually did he tell them the program would be run by police officers.
"Some kids were pretty skeptical," Wilkie says. He had to reassure them the officers would not be working with them as police but just as adults interested in their welfare.
The first night was a bit dicey, Laney says. He and officer Julie Hinkel, two of the six Workin' It Out board members, did a quick orientation for the kids. Laney introduced himself to each of the participants and asked their names.
One girl looked him straight in the eye and replied, "You've got it on file, you know."
"They were pretty quiet and standoffish," says Tara Hanson, another officer involved in the program. But by the second night, "they began to break down some of those walls," even talking to the officers about their previous unpleasant experiences with cops.
The kids particularly warmed up to Officer Tom Morris, Laney says. He proved so patient and personable that the kids began to ask him questions on their own about what he was like as a kid and other subjects about which they were curious. It was a chance to debunk some of their misconceptions about police officers, Laney says.
Some of those misconceptions were more benign. A radio plays in the room during the workouts and "the music they listen to is the same as us," the 16-year-old participant says. "We all thought they'd be listening to country."
Organizers discovered how successful Workin' It Out was during October's Meth Tool Box at the Fargodome. Laney says he was surrounded there by eight of the original program's participants, who begged him to start it up again.
"It was music to my ears, because it worked," he says.
Wilkie says the Boys and Girls Ranch residents have benefited from the program in ways both obvious - better health - and more subtle - better moods. The endorphin rush brought on by exercise noticeably reduces their anxiety, he says.
The cops, who have gotten to know the kids as something other than troublemakers, have also noticed the improvements.
And that means the program's name is accurate on many levels, he says. " 'Workin' It Out' sums up so much more."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541