Tank was well-behaved, especially around energetic kids. He’s always accompanied by police officers who keep a close eye on him. You could say he’s on work-release since he’s locked up every night.
The 19-year-old Quarter Horse is one of four horses of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s Mounted Patrol. Last month, he and two mounted patrol officers visited Fairground Park and made friends with 16 children attending Camp Sun Splash, a summer camp operated by Sts. Teresa and Bridget parishioner Velma Bailey’s Saint Louis Torchbearers 2 organization.
“Can he hear?” one of the children asked Officer Kevin Dilg. “He can hear super good,” Dilg replied. Grass is his favorite food, and he could eat it all day, the police officer added.
Camp Sun Splash offers fun learning experiences. Bailey has organized a free summer camp for children in St. Louis for the past nine years. It runs several weeks during the summer, six weeks this year. She partners with faith organizations, state programs and others to fund the activities and meals. Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish provided ice every day, and members of a three-parish ACTS group from Annunciation, Our Lady of Providence and Sts. Teresa and Bridget also assisted.
Campers enjoy field trips plus programming about nutrition, teamwork and fitness. It also includes breakfast and lunch every day. Bailey seeks to help avoid what she calls “summer brain drain” and to keep youth out of gangs. She spends every day, all day at camp when it is in session.
It’s part of what Bailey heard Archbishop Emeritus Robert J. Carlson say are the most important words: “To go.” It’s sharing the Gospel and acting instead of pew-sitting.
“We come here and have a lot of fun,” said Javon Jones, 10, who enjoys hula hoops, basketball, football and cheer activities.
Tamara Johnson, 8, listed drawing as her favorite, and Janiyah Jones, 11, a fan of writing poems, plays and stories, said “I like playing with friends, meeting new people and doing activities.”
The youngsters said they enjoy meeting the police officers, whom they described as nice people who try to help them. Bailey said one intention of the camp is to build relationships between the children and police so they see it as a partnership and not adversarial. “It’ll make a difference when the children become teenagers and adults,” Bailey said.
Bailey consistently praised the children as they followed through on her requests but wasn’t hesitant to say she’d withhold extras from them if they acted up. She said this year the camp sought to help students learn about and adhere to COVID-19 guidelines, though she admitted it’s a bit challenging.
Kendall Saunders, a Sts. Teresa and Bridget parishioner and a volunteer at the camp said every activity is good, though the free ice cream from the police department’s Polar Cops van might be a favorite. Saunders enjoyed fishing with the children with cane poles in a program in partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation. One child caught a catfish that was so big it broke his pole.
Major Angela Coonce, commander of the police department’s North Patrol Division, brought basketballs and footballs to hand out to the children. She stuck around and showed her athletic talents throwing the football and shooting hoops with them. Coonce said the best part of her job is “getting out in the community, getting to know them but also letting them get to know us as individuals and people, not just as police officers. We all signed up to make a difference in the community and I feel like coming out here each week, working with the kids and having them get to know us personally, is really making a difference.”
Coonce called Bailey a “rock” in the community who puts her faith into action. “Seeing what she does to scrape funds together, to knock down doors and get people to come out to help the kids, provide equipment for the camp, learning experiences and teach life skills … we need a lot more Miss Bailey’s around. She is an advocate for north St. Louis and an advocate for these kids. She doesn’t let barriers stop her. She’ll do anything to get resources for the kids.”
>> Saint Louis Torchbearers 2
The organization founded by Sts. Teresa and Bridget parishioner Velma Bailey has a mission to train youth to serve in leadership roles among their peers, in their communities and throughout the world.
Programs have included Bible clubs, service learning, book clubs, journal writing, day camps and more.
The organization stresses that the world is a classroom and children have an inalienable right to develop cognitively, physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually and to learn to be responsible, useful and successful. Intergenerational experiences are seen as essential to positive leadership development.
Saint Louis Torchbearers 2 believes strong leaders create strong families and communities, thereby making the world a better place to live, work and play.
For information, visit www.torchbearers2.org or the Saint Louis Torchbearers 2 Facebook page or call (314) 502-9122. Donations may be sent to P.O. Box 78007, St. Louis, MO 63178-8007.