By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Last week’s Shop with a Cop events at three Academy Sports + Outdoors locations in Alabama got off to a somewhat hesitant start, but it wasn’t because of a lack of funds or product availability.
Each of three Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches received a $ 200 gift card to use at Academy Sports + Outdoors locations in Florence, Montgomery and Foley. Conservation executives from the Alabama Freshwater Fish and Wildlife Division (WFF) and the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) provided assistance and advice for the purchasing choices of young people. The Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association (ACEOA) donated to feed the kids after the shopping spree.
According to Michael Smith, CEO of Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches, the slow start to the shopping spree was due to the fact that most of the kids at the three ranches – Colbert County Girls Ranch, Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, and Baldwin County Boys Ranch – weren’t there. had never been. situation before.
âI just want to express how much we at the Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches appreciate the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and the Sports + Outdoors Academy for adopting our ranchers the way they have,â a Smith said. âA lot of these ranchers had never even been to a store like this with that kind of money. I noticed it during the event. They were so overwhelmed that they didn’t know which way to go first.
âWithout the help of the folks at the Conservation Department and the Sports + Outdoors Academy, they might not have been able to do something like this. It’s great for me, as CEO of Sheriffs Ranches, to see the State of Alabama take care of our youth.
Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner, attended the event in Montgomery and said that not only were the young people filling the shopping carts, the ADCNR had also benefited greatly.
âThe Shop with a Cop event was amazing for everyone involved,â said Commissioner Blankenship. âFirst of all, we appreciate the generosity of Academy Sports + Outdoors and the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association. They have both been excellent partners and supporters of ADCNR and outdoor recreation in Alabama. I would like to congratulate our Section Head of Communications and Marketing, Billy Pope, for organizing these events and his continued work with the Academy and others to promote the ADCNR and the work of our staff to a greater large number of Alabamians. Events like this are good for all of us.
âI don’t know who liked shopping more, the kids or the conservationists. They all looked like they were having fun. It really is a great opportunity for officers and kids to get to know each other on a different level and in a different situation. It helps both groups see the other as real people and individuals. This kind of community engagement is good for agents and helps us all remember why we got into this job in the first place. We are working to conserve Alabama’s natural resources for this generation and the next. Spending time sharing this love for the outdoors and our neighbor is good for everyone involved. The young people of the Boys and Girls Ranches have been through a lot. This program helps them have a good Christmas and get to know law enforcement men and women who can be positive role models and resources as they grow up.
Smith said the feedback from young people who attended the events was tremendous. He said his son Kirk Smith, WFF Conservation Enforcement Officer, attended the Montgomery event and explained that some of the girls were removing tags and putting on new shoes and sweaters as they left the store .
“He (Kirk) said it was a touching thing to see and how much, as a law enforcement officer, he enjoyed having dinner with them afterwards and hearing their stories,” said the elder Smith. âTo have officers in this atmosphere who are the right ones was something special for all of us. We know they are there to protect. Hopefully this will encourage some of our ranchers to consider a career in law enforcement because they saw the bright side of it.
âI received photos and comments from the girls and boys who were at the events, saying how much they appreciated it. Several of our youth have asked conservation officers to come and visit the ranches. These officers put our young people at ease. It was a side of law enforcement that many of them had never seen. Some come from struggling households, and seeing these officers in full uniform pushing these strollers, taking care of these young people was special, not only for the ranchers, but also for me as CEO.
Smith said the three aforementioned ranches are currently operating with plans to reopen another facility in Pell City due to the need for young people to live in a Christian environment.
âThey are needy kids,â Smith said. âThey are great children. They’ve just been in not-so-good situations. Some of the children are from DHR (Department of Human Resources). Some have been to several foster homes. We also get a private placement, for example a child is born and the mother can be dependent on something or incarcerated or whatever. The grandparents may have adopted the baby, and now that the child is older, they are no longer able to care for them. They ask us for help so that we can help them become young men and women who can benefit, themselves, their families and our state.
âOur slogan is that it is easier to build boys and girls than it is to fix men and women. With the situation of our prisons, homelessness and foster families, we try to give these young people a home where they can flourish. We will keep them throughout business school or college regardless of their decision to attend. We are their family at this time.
ACOA Executive Director Kevin Dodd, a retired game ranger, said Billy Pope suggested this would be a perfect opportunity for the association to join the effort to help young people on the ranches. .
âWe were more than happy to help,â Dodd said. âOur officers who attended said it was more rewarding than anything they did on the job. One of the household parents at the event said some of the children never had the chance to pick out a Christmas tree. That says a lot about where they have been. They may appear normal on the surface, but you don’t know where they’re coming from.
âAnd I can’t say enough about Academy Sports + Outdoors. I’m glad the Academy has taken over and gone with this. I consider it an investment by the Academy and our association. We hope this will launch an outdoor adventure for these young people that could become a life of leisure for them. “
Scott Bannon, director of the MRD, echoed his colleagues’ feelings about the success of the events. Bannon attended the event in Foley.
âI think it’s an amazing event,â Bannon said. âIt’s a great opportunity for young people to spend time with these officers and realize that they are good people and that they can be trusted. For our agents to have the opportunity to help these young people and to share life experiences, it is an extraordinary two hour event. Our officers were touched by the experience and by these guys who come from tough times.
âAnd the community embraced it as well. A family was in the store and found out what was going on. They immediately went to a cash register and bought five $ 50 gift cards to give to the ranches. Another person came to see Mr. Smith and wanted to know how he and his wife could help, and they discussed arrangements for future help.
Rick Burleson, Regional Academy Marketing Specialist, said the Shop with a Cop events were the result of a long-standing partnership with Outdoor Alabama and ADCNR to share the love of the outdoors. Academy also supports Go Fish from ADCNR, Alabama! program.
âWith the holiday season on, we wanted to treat some young people having difficult life experiences with a shopping trip to our stores,â Burleson said. âAccompanied by conservation officers, they could pick out their own clothes, shoes or leisure equipment and hopefully prepare for their evening.
âAll the feedback I received was positive. I was in Florence, and the girls at Colbert County Girls Ranch were a little shy and hesitant at first, but you could quickly see them opening up to the officers and the bonds that were forming. There were a lot of smiles and laughter. It was certainly gratifying to be a part of it.