By Andy Steinke, Dells Events
When a family member is involved with law enforcement or emergency medical services personnel, the experience can be a traumatic for a child. That’s why the Lake Delton Police Department and Dells-Delton EMS have joined a new Wisconsin-based program that helps children through these tough times.
Watching a parent be arrested after a domestic dispute, being in the car when an aunt or uncle is involved in an accident or having to ride in an ambulance with an incapacitated grandparent can be a shock to a child’s system.
That’s why the non-profit organization REACH-a-Child is doing what it can to distract children involved in these, and many other, situations.
R.E.A.C.H. a Child is a book-based program that gives books to children in their time of need. The word R.E.A.C.H. stands for Reading Enjoyment Affects Childhood Happiness, and that is what REACH-a-Child is trying to accomplish. When a child is involved in a traumatic situation, a book can take their minds off reality for awhile.
The R.E.A.C.H. a Child program was started late last year, and it is now being picked up by the Lake Delton Police Department and Dells-Delton EMS.
After reading about the program on a law enforcement Web site, Officer Kristi Seidl contacted the program for more information. A short while later, bookbags with about a dozen books inside arrived at the department.
All seven of the department’s squad cars will be equipped with a backpack that officers can pull out when there is a chlid — whose family is dealing with law enforcement personnel — needs to be distracted.
Dells-Delton EMS Director Janene Clark said the service has five ambulances and one other “fly car” for which they will receive backpacks. EMT Jessica Fountain will work with Seidl to head the program for the department.
The bookbags have books for children of all ages, Seidl said. When the officer hands out a book for a child to read, it doesn’t ask for the book back.
Each book has a stamp on the inside with a line underneath that tells who the book is “authorized by.” The officer or medical technician can sign on the line and give the book to the child as a present, program co-founder Paul Scott Gilbertson said.
After books are handed out, the police department can contact the organization and it will send more books to replenish the backpack.
In theory, the program can continue on indefinitely, as long as organizations and individuals continue to donate books.
The Wisconsin-based program was started less than a year ago, but has already reached all 72 Wisconsin counties as well as a few in Illinois.
More than 4,000 backpacks are outfitting about 750 police cars and ambulances in over 150 Wisconsin communities, Gilbertson said. Almost 5,000 backpacks overall have been shipped, and there is a waiting list two times that amount from other communities requesting backpacks.
REACH-a-Child was originally a publishing company started by Gilbertson and his wife Chris to publish a series of children’s books written by Paul.
The idea for the R.E.A.C.H. a Child program came to fruition after Paul and Chris visited Ground Zero in New York in May 2007 while they were there for an author and publishers convention. Paul was in New York to revive his organization as a book publishing company, but changed his mind after seeing Ground Zero.
“We toured Ground Zero and realized what an emotional roller coaster that must have been for a child who had a parent involved,” Paul said.
After seeing the site, he said he wondered what book publishing companies did with all their leftover books.
“I thought, why not give them to kids,” Paul said. And that’s exactly what the organization is doing now.
Before the end of last year, Paul had asked to be placed on a Dane County chiefs of police meeting agenda and pitched the idea of giving away books to children with whom the officers interact.
He said he wasn’t sure how the idea would be received, but said the chiefs thought it was a great idea.
On Dec. 13, the program started with a bang, giving away 350 backpacks to Dane County police and ambulance services.
After covering every Wisconsin county, the program spread to Illinois. And recently talks with agencies in Minnesota began.
“We hope to take the program national in the next two years,” Paul said. The organization is looking for national sponsors to make that happen, he said.
The program accepts donations of new or like-new books from individual donors, but also receives big contributions from places like Half Price Books, Borders and others.
In the future, children may also receive the backpacks as well, Paul said, but for now, it’s only books.