ROANOKE, Va. – After a quick warmup, kids at the West End Center in Roanoke hit the pavement Wednesday morning for a 1.6 mile jog.
About ten elementary through high school-aged kids will spend the next eight weeks training for a 5K alongside runners, volunteers and Roanoke City Police officers.
The pilot program is called Badge Buddies.
“You help build relationships. You get to know people and through running it’s kind of a shared sorrow in a way,” said RunAbout Sports co-owner Ally Bowersock.
She came up with the idea for the program to see if they can change the perception children have of law enforcement.
“We wanted to launch this program last year in response to closures of sports and physical activity in schools but also addressing social justice issues in the nation,” said Bowersock. “Just trying to address a lot of those disparities that we’ve seen.”
Badge Buddies is a great way for kids to stay active and the hope is that after they lace up their shoelaces, that’s when the relationships are formed.
Monti Lee, a Carilion Clinic police investigator who retired from RPD after 33 years, spoke with the kids as they ran, asking about their schools, favorite classes and sports.
“Just to learn about them and them as individuals,” said Lee.
Roanoke City Deputy Chief Eric Charles said building trust takes time, but this is a start. He’d like to open up lines of communication with these kids.
“Hey, it’s OK if I go talk to [a police officer],” said Charles. “It may not be the cool thing, but I have a relationship with this guy and I can go talk to him.”
Bowersock said this mission is personal.
“My biological father was a police officer and he was abusive. So for me, as well, it’s healing to be a part of learning to get to know police officers as people,” said Bowersock.
She hopes this program can help children look beyond the badge to find common footing.