The idea started with DeForest Police Chief James Olson’s love of hockey.
As a lifelong fan, Olson has followed the career of NHL star P.K. Subban. After hearing that Subban had hosted a Winter Wonderland event full of fun activities for special needs kids, Olson wanted to do something similar.
On Saturday, the DeForest Police Department held its own version for local families with special needs children, welcoming a total of 60 people.
“I was always inspired by that,” said Olson.
Along with tours of the department, there were activities, games, lunch and a police “sleigh” tour. There were arts and crafts stations, an area to decorate cookies and a host of other activities, along with a bouncy slide provided by Waunakee Rental in the department’s garage, which was cleaned out for the event. Fleet Farm offered gift bags and blankets, while bb Jack’s brought pizza for lunch.
Members of the police department volunteered to help out, as did students from DeForest Area High School.
In fact, it was student Brooke Buhr and a new high school club called Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) that shouldered much of the load as far as organizing the event. Other organizations from DeForest Area High School also assisted, including Norski Nation Cooking Club and the National Honor Society.
“In the (FCCLA), one thing we do is monthly service learning projects to help our local community,” said Buhr. “We had contacted the police department because we were working on another service project and Chief Olson approached us about potentially helping with this event. As soon as I heard his idea, I loved it and I knew it was something that FCCLA had to help out with.”
Buhr said the FCCLA had good reason to get involved with the program.
“It was important for us to help out at this event because it gives us an opportunity to help our local community and police department,” said Buhr. “The police department does so much for our community so helping out with their event was the least we could do.”
The goal was clear to Buhr and the FCCLA.
“I was hoping to help the police department obtain their goal of developing positive relationships between police officers and different members of the community,” said Buhr. “I was hoping that the event would run smoothly and be a success with FCCLA helping run the event.”
Chief Olson said he hoped the event would lead to better interactions with special needs kids.
“At times, special needs kids are afraid of us,” said Olson.
By the same token, Olson said such events as Winter Wonderland help officers learn how to deal with special needs kids.
“The goal was to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and special needs families so the kids would be comfortable approaching an officer if they needed help,” said Chief Olson. “Also, I wanted myself and the staff to gain a deeper understanding of kids with special needs. I’ve always felt that they are some of the most loving kids around and we wanted to celebrate them.”
He also said the department values its partnership with the school district, as it helps build understanding between young people and law enforcement officers.
As for Buhr and the FCCLA, they’re hoping to work with the police department again on future projects.
“I would definitely love to work with Chief Olson and the police department for similar events in the future,” said Buhr. “FCCLA is actually currently working on another service project for the police department which we are really excited about. We are making stuffed elephants to donate to the police department [so] that they can distribute to children affected by crime in hopes that the stuffed animal will help comfort them.”