ELYRIA — Their caravan is turning heads as they travel around Lorain County this week.
Why wouldn’t it, given that it isn’t every day residents see a long line of law enforcement vehicles from across the county zooming here and there with their lights and sirens on?
Inside the cars are boys participating in this year’s Operation Open Heart, and they get a special escort as they head to activities staged by the organization, which has been around since 1962 after being started by David Harper, an orphan who became a trooper for the Ohio Highway Patrol.
Roughly 25 officers volunteering this week — they all use vacation time to do so — to work with the boys to teach life skills such as citizenship, respect for law enforcement and healthy relationships, and they do it while engaging in fun activities that help show them that law officers aren’t to be feared.
The boys camp at Mill Hollow in Vermilion, and many who are involved, are referred to the program via Lorain County Children Services.
At Mill Hollow, the boys get to swim, watch movies projected on a screen, have cookouts and, of course, tell scary stories around campfires complete with masks, costumes and special effects makeup.
On Tuesday, they enjoyed a cookout at Cascade Park in Elyria. They’ve also flown with pilots at Lorain County Regional Airport, taken a cruise on Lake Erie with the Lorain Yacht Club and gone to Cedar Point, where they met up with Girl Power, a similar group for young girls sponsored by Children Services.
Andrew Alston, 14, of Lorain, remembers attending the program when he was younger and laughs when telling his favorite recollection.
“My favorite memory is definitely when ‘The Dennis’s’ car caught on fire,” Andrew said.
The Dennis would be Raymond Dennis, an auxiliary sergeant with the Lorain Police Department, who was traveling with campers in his cruiser when the vehicle caught fire.
Everyone got out, a fire extinguisher was used to put it out, but the memory still provokes good laughs.
Andrew, an aspiring police officer, is no longer a camper and is now considered an explorer with the program. Five explorers are volunteers who clean the campgrounds and help the officers keep order among the 35 campers.
Dennis, who has been involved with Operation Open Heart for 30 years, said his favorite memory isn’t his car catching fire.
Rather, it goes back to when he was a camper himself and, after a horseback riding event, he curiously was fiddling around with a door in a Sheriff’s van while waiting to go back to the camp base. Unfortunately, he tumbled out of the van and fractured his wrist.
He chuckles as he tells the story, chalking it up to boyhood curiosity, something the boys get to experience and build upon with the program.
Local organizations participating
- Elyria Police Department
- Lorain Police Department
- North Ridgeville Police Department
- Avon Police Department
- Avon Lake Police Department
- Amherst Police Department
- Olmsted Falls Police Department
- Sheffield Lake Police Department
- Vermilion Police Department
- Vermilion Fire Department
- Ohio Highway Patrol
- Lorain County Sheriff’s Office
- North Central EMS
- Lorain County Metro Parks
Contact Rachel Rieger at 329-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.