By Michele Murphy
It’s called Operation Open Heart, a nonprofit founded by Ohio State Trooper David Harper to connect police officers to young boys who, through no fault of their own, are in the child welfare system. Harper knew exactly how that felt because he was an orphan. Fifty-five years later, it still thrives, run by cops and fighter/paramedics who donate their time to a cause they care about deeply.
Last week these awesome men hosted close to 50 Lorain County school-age boys at Operation Open Heart’s annual week-long overnight camp, dubbed “Cop Camp.”
These men – these heroes – work all year long raising funds necessary to run the camp. They make plans for camp activities including bowling, putt-putt, swimming, plane rides, boat rides, and haircuts. They secure supplies they will need at the camp site – tents, movies, cleaning supplies, food.
But that is just “the stuff” it takes to make camp happen. The thing needed even more to ensure a successful camp experience for these kids is heart. And, these guys have big hearts.
I spent portions of three days with them this week. What I saw from these men for these kids was the same enthusiasm, connection and affection they have for their own kids. How would I know about them as fathers? Simple. A number of them bring their sons to camp. Those sons told me that their dads started bringing them to camp when they were five and six-years old. Now, as teenagers and young adults, they return to help out and serve as role models to the new crop of campers.
I discovered that, just as each camper has a story to tell, so do the men who care for them. One was an orphan. Years ago, he was a camper. He grew up, joined law enforcement and now brings his son to help. Another’s mom was was in foster care. Yet another spent his first years in a refuge camp. There are four brothers – three on safety forces and the other in the military. They all came to Cop Camp as kids with their dad and now return each year to help.
I suspect many readers would be exhausted at just the thought of being with 50 very active boys for an entire week. As one told me, it is a major effort to merely get all of them organized to move from one activity to the next.
Ahead of that each morning, they were cracking eggs and flipping pancakes – for 50 kids and 25 adults. That’s enough to make anyone’s wrist hurt in sympathy. However, these men take it in stride, laughing with the kids, joshing with one another, making it appear seamless.
I spoke with many of the campers, that is when I could get their attention as they enthusiastically chowed down on great food or engaged in their activities. They easily ticked off the things they had fun doing, although number one seemed to be riding in police and fire vehicles with flashing lights and blaring sirens. A number of them told me they had never been in an airplane or on a boat on the lake. I was surprised by the number who said they were happy about getting haircuts. On Thursday, several told me they were looking forward to getting back to their campsite that evening to see if there would be any “scary night” activities. The boys had been to camp in previous years and described how the men, occasionally dressed in costume, would suddenly appear hoping to evoke a strong reaction particularly from new campers. A police lieutenant sitting nearby and overhearing them told me it was more fun than scary. Nonetheless, both kids and adults were looking forward to it.
I, for one, am a bit tired of reading and hearing about the instances when cops make a mistake or flat-out mess up. It does happen. It also happens in every single profession. However, day in and day out, year in and year out, thousands of cops around the country do the right thing and we read and hear about that far too little.
In the paper today, you will see several stories about Operation Open Heart and short profiles about the men in your communities who make it happen. After you read about them, I’m betting you will feel as I do. They are all guilty of “excessive kindness.”