Sheriff Sgt. Brian Cassidy went to meet his Little for the first time, and thought there must have been a mistake. “I showed up and there was another deputy there,” says Cassidy, “I thought someone messed up and there were two of us,” Cassidy pauses then adds, “but that was not the case.” What the newly assigned Big didn’t know was that his Little was facing some additional challenges. ”I had to think quickly,” says Cassidy, “he already said he didn’t want to tell the deputy his side of the story. I saw he was worried about what had happened. An incident had occurred,” Cassidy trails off, “so I stepped in and told my Little, if the deputy had questions, I would help answer them but only if he wanted me to” Cassidy shakes his head, “we just got off to a rough start.”
Bridging the Community
Cassidy and six other officers are the first of Olympia’s law enforcement to be involved in the Bigs with Badges program through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington (BBBSSW). The national program, Bigs in Blue, launched last year. Jeff Engle, local BBBS President and CEO, envisioned a broader reach with the name, Bigs with Badges. “We modeled it on the national program and were in conversations with Chief Roberts, who is the Olympia police chief,” says Engles. “Then other officers and departments soon followed.”
Bigs with Badges matches middle school and high school youth with law enforcement officers. It is a collaborative effort through the Olympia School District, North Thurston School District, and Yelm School District, law enforcement agencies, and the BBBSSW. This year’s program was fully funded by the community through the BBBS annual auction.
“It is our pilot year,” says LeAnn Winkler, director of program services for the local chapter of BBBS, “and we hope to expand to other law enforcement agencies and possibly fire departments.”
The program is off to a great start. Many involved have high hopes that this program can help bridge the community and law enforcement with its unusual one-on-one mentoring.
“We like it because we wanted to do community-building,” says Engle. “It is pretty exciting for an officer to come to a school campus with an opportunity to meet with youth. Helping these young people stay on a path so they can be successful in life, it’s just a great way to help.”
Sometimes helping can be a challenging. “We say ‘look for the nuggets,’” advises Engle.
Rewards and Consequences
Cassidy has been working with his Little since October and they routinely play basketball each week. It turns out a lot can happen when two people make the time.
“That first day, we didn‘t play basketball,” Cassidy shares. “We walked around the track and I told him, ‘Everything we do in life – there is always some reward or some consequence.’ Later I asked him and he remembered ‘rewards and consequences.’ So we came up with a plan – if he stayed out of trouble for a certain period of time I would bring him a pair of basketball shoes he really wanted.
“It only took two days, he got in trouble. When I showed up he was pretty disappointed. And then I asked, ‘what does it go back to?’ and he said, ‘I didn’t get the reward because of the decision I made.’ So we worked on it again. Then, I think he forgot about the shoes…” Cassidy did not. He surprised his Little with the reward of his dream basketball shoes after he made his goal.
“He actually remembered there is a reward or consequence,” Cassidy continues, “Even if it is that tiny, tiny nugget,” Cassidy pinches his fingers tightly together, “and you need a metal detector to find it, it’s worth it.”
“He Provides Me Insight”
Al Weinnig works with the Olympia Police Department as a detective. He and his Little, Kyle, have been in the Bigs with Badges program for six months. The first time he met Kyle, Kyle’s brother was with him. He pulled Weinnig aside and said, “Don’t let him down.” It was an important moment.
“I try to be as consistent as I can,” says Weinnig, “he just needs that consistent person in his life. And in my normal daily interaction I see people in crisis and I don’t know what happens after that. But for him, I can see how his life is changing. What is happening in his life.”
Life is changing for Weinnig too. “Through the last six months I feel I have grown as much as he has,” says Weinnig, “I am a better parent and a cop for sure. He provides me insight. I see that there are different ways to interact.”
Kyle’s guardian has seen changes in Kyle’s life too. “I was excited that Kyle would be making a positive connection with a police officer,” she said, “he seems stronger, more relaxed, and more open.”
Keeping the Connection Strong
It is hoped that some of these matches will also move to the community-based Bigs program at the end of the school year. Cassidy and Weinnig want to maintain momentum and will be two of a handful doing so this summer.
Cassidy will be checking on his Little’s grades, hoping for more improvement, and, crossing his fingers he’ll be “seeing his Little continue on to high school.” He is putting together a plan for summer basketball camp.
Weinnig and Kyle will be working out this summer. Weinnig already teaches kids cross-fit and has a routine for building up Kyle’s core. And for Kyle’s part, “He is going to teach me fishing,” says Weinnig, sounding pleasantly surprised, “I have never been fishing.”
Any officers interested in participating in the Bigs with Badges program are encouraged to email or call LeAnn Winkler for details, 360-943-0409 ext. 114.