Twelve-year old Ivan Lucatero stands on the beach and reflects for a moment on how he normally would spend a Saturday morning.
“Right now? I would still be lying in bed playing around on my smart phone, but I’m out here with my friends on the beach. I’m outside — this is way better.”
Ivan is one of 80 participants in the Anaheim Police Department’ s Cops 4 Kids Junior Cadet program who, along with Anaheim Police officers and Police Explorers, took to the shores of Bolsa Chica for a beach cleanup Saturday, May 30 at the state park’s Tower 16.
“The Cops 4 Kids Junior Cadet program is a 24-week program designed to build a positive relationship between our city’s youth and law enforcement,” said APD Sgt. Jacob Gallacher, who runs the program.
“The goal is for participants to display the values that define the junior cadet: respect, responsibility and self-discipline.”
The APD junior cadets started the morning getting organized into cleanup teams.
As work got under way, the young participants could be heard laughing while eagerly digging into the sand, showing their respective lead Police Explorer that amidst the trash and seaweed, there were “treasures” to be found.
One junior cadet made a particularly special find of her own that she considered worthy of keeping for her personal collection. It was a porous rock that had been fashioned by a beachcomber with sticks to resemble a face.
Some fellow cadets took interest in her discovery, giggling as someone accurately described it as “a man-made beach Pinocchio.”
Christopher Gulick said he really enjoys being a junior cadet and having opportunities to help, like the beach cleanup. While reflecting on his community service, he leaned over and picked up a small white seashell. Still thinking of others, he said with a smile: “I will give this to my little sister. She has a pretty big collection now. She loves them.”
Further up the beach, junior cadet Jason Hodges said enthusiastically, “I like being outside and I like giving back.”
Pausing only for a moment from his cleanup task, Jason looked to the future: “I want to be a cop one day. I can’t wait to graduate from the program and hopefully become a Police Explorer.”
While the shores of Bolsa Chica were surprisingly clean, there was some trash here and there. Police Explorer Mario Gonzalez looked over the beach and observed: “We clean this area frequently, and this is the fourth time we’ve been out here this year. So it shows we are making significant progress and it’s fun for the junior cadets to dig around.”
Keeping a close eye on the activities, first-time participant Officer Clint Cavaness, of the APD, smiled: “I really like this, it’s a lot of fun. I have two boys myself. So I can relate to why this program is so beneficial.”
He added: “From what I know, some of these kids start out in this program because it was their parents’ idea. Some are resistant and rebellious — at first — but as time goes on, many of these individuals actually end up loving the program and enjoying the structure it provides.”
Around 10:15 a.m., it was time for a break. Many of the junior cadets grabbed some water and sat on a ledge facing the busy boardwalk. From this vantage point they had ample opportunity to enthusiastically high-five every passerby they could, including bike riders, joggers and casual walkers. The sound of constant laughter, overall excitement and camaraderie brightened up the cloudy morning.
The enthusiastic mood was not lost on Gallacher.
“Cops 4 Kids has been the most rewarding aspect of my career. A lot of these kids are coming from challenging neighborhoods,” he said. “For some of them, this is the first time they’ve ever even seen the beach, yet they live 20 minutes away from it. It’s just extremely rewarding to be here working alongside them.”
He reflected on past outings that are a big part of the program.
“One thing I’ll never forget, in September, we take the kids up to the mountains. One junior cadet asked me, ‘Where did all these trees come from?’” Sgt. Gallacher paused, remembering how touching that moment was for him.
“Experiences like this are a big deal for these kids, and that is why I love this program,” he said.
The beach cleanup was the final community service requirement before these 80 junior cadets graduate next Friday, June 12, at a ceremony at the Anaheim Convention Center.
“We are expecting more than 500 junior cadets to be graduating this year — that’s the most in our history,” Gallacher said proudly. “This is a fantastic reward for all their hard work and dedication.”
Back at Bolsa Chica, the sun was coming out. The 80 junior cadets headed home. The clean beach they left behind was a reminder to all beachgoers to value the virtues of respect, responsibility and self-discipline. The junior cadets showed it can be done, all while making new friends, gaining new experiences, exploring the unexplored and finding hidden treasures along the way.