- Associated Press - Sunday, November 17, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - School resources Officer Angela Booker felt confused and hurt.

One of her favorite students, Athaleah “Leah” Kerchaval, a seventh grader with special needs, usually hugged Booker and called her “Auntie” or “Momma.”

But one day, a few years back, Leah started giving Booker the cold shoulder at Nashville’s Haynes Middle School, even ignoring the Metro Police officer when Booker asked the girl how she was doing.

Leah’s mother solved the mystery.

Turns out Leah was upset that her sister was going to a police-run summer camp, but Leah was not. Her mom didn’t think Leah would be a good fit for the camp run by the Fraternal Order of Police.

And Leah’s sister teased her about it: I’m going to camp with YOUR Officer Booker!

“That really crushed Leah,” Booker said, adding that the girl blamed her.

That scenario planted a seed, and in 2018, Booker started T.E.A.M. 1 summer camp, a weeklong day camp for girls with special needs, girls who’d captured her heart.

“I thought, I’ve got to do something to get all my babies together,” Booker said. “We’ve got to have our own camp.”

The first year, Booker organized it, planned the activities, drafted volunteers, got buy-in from Haynes Middle School, even picked up some of the girls herself - and spent about $1,000 of her own money for food and materials.

The campers start each day with a hygiene lesson, prayer and hot breakfast. Activities include arts and crafts, sports and even some science and math exercises because, Booker noticed, the schools sometimes don’t teach those subjects to girls with special needs.

Booker also arranges a couple of field trips to wave pools and trampoline parks, venues that let campers come for free admission.

The girls have fun and learn a lot, Booker said. She and other volunteers do, too.

“I admire those girls,” Booker said.

“They have some for-real challenges yet they have smiles on their faces like they don’t have a care in the world,” she added.

“But we wake up every morning with full capabilities complaining and griping. These babies who really have something to complain about are happy and loving life.”

This past summer - camp T.E.A.M. 1’s second summer - Metro Police and Metro Schools contributed staff, food and transportation. Other donors have paid for T-shirts and outings for the girls.

Booker - who still spends more than 100 hours of her own time to set up the camp - is grateful and inspired by the community members who’ve stepped up to help.

Meanwhile, Booker stays in touch with Leah and her mom, Chequita Smith, who calls Booker “the sweetest, kindest person I know.”

“Leah is a sweet young lady,” her mom said, “and her relationship with Officer Booker is what puts a smile on her face.”


Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com

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