- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Children love summer camp, no matter where they are from.

For two weeks in June, about 160 East Tennessee children, ages 6 to 11, come to the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 2 Youth Camp to learn social skills, how to trust police and emergency responders and of course, enjoy camp.

For more than 50 years, children have been coming to the camp in south Knox County where they form lifelong relationships with their counselors and peers, said Chris Jones, Knoxville Police Department Investigator and camp director.

Sponsored by the FOP, the free camp hosts children from families that could otherwise not afford to send students off for the summer, creating lifelong friendships, team-building skills and teaching the importance of not bullying their peers.

“This is a family,” Jones said, “This is a place where any kid can come, no matter what they’re coming from, and they can come here knowing that they’re loved and cared for and that relationship is going to continue beyond this camp.”

Most of the counselors are assorted members of KPD, Knox County Sheriff’s Department and officers from the University of Tennessee Medical Center Police Department on special assignment, with 15-20 additional volunteers.

By having children around uniformed and nonuniformed officers at the camp, children can understand that police officers and other first responders can be trusted.

“The biggest reward is not children asking for help but them seeing us in public, and giving us a hug, saying, ‘I miss you, I want to come back,’” Jones said.

When the campers turn 13, they have the option to come back as a junior counselor, a nonauthoritative mentor for the younger children.

Reggie Coleman, in his fifth year as a junior counselor, said having children active and around their friends is likely the best place for them in the summer.

“When they get here, you try to give them the time of their life because you don’t know what they’re doing when they get back,” he said. “I hope they’re living in good homes, but you just don’t know.”

Jones has come to the camp almost every year since he was 6 years old, and has seen junior counselors become leaders in their community as doctors, members of the armed forces and in the police department.

“They want to come up here to have fun, but we want to teach them things along the way while having fun,” Jones said.

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Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com

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