Cops ‘n’ Kids, an organization dedicated to empowering youth and encouraging positive relationships with the police, uses books to show young residents of the Southside how their community cares for them.
The organization hosts a variety of events throughout the year with the most recent being the 14th annual “Celebration of Reading … and the Arts and Sciences: A Million Books and Counting” organized by Cops ‘n’ Kids of the Lehigh Valley, Inc. and Northampton Community College. The event was held at the Northampton Community College Fowler Family Southside Center on April 23.
The event began with an opening parade on the Greenway, featuring Bethlehem Area School District elementary schools, the city of Bethlehem Mounted Police Unit, the Broughal Middle School Marching Band and the Liberty High School Grenadier Band First Company.
The event offered a wide range of activities for youth in the community, such as a free book distribution venue, crafts, sports and multiple performances by local school singers, bands, jazz ensembles and a special guest of Muhlenberg College performers. The Greater Valley YMCA also offered parachute and scooter activities, and healthy snacks for kids.
The Cops ‘n’ Kids Children’s Literacy Task Force of the Lehigh Valley – one of the organizers of the event – was formed in June 2003. Since their formation, the organization has distributed 1,121,161 books to children of the Lehigh Valley community.
Beverly Bradley, chairperson and president of Cops ‘n’ Kids of the Lehigh Valley, Inc., has led the organization since its first days. Bradley said the mission statement of her organization is “connecting kids and community through literacy.” Cops ‘n’ Kids of the Lehigh Valley offers free books that are new and gently used.
“I want the book to be what connects the community to these children,” Bradley said. “I want them to see all of the people in our community who care about them. All of these folks who come together for me – I want these little ones to know that these people care about who they are and care about their future.”
Cops ‘n’ Kids hosts a Reading Room on the fifth floor of the Fowler Family Southside Center, full of children’s books, crafts and toys to engage young readers. This little library is open for children to spend the day in, and they are allowed to take up to five free books during their visit.
Bradley said the room has inspired local families to create little libraries in their homes for their children. Kids will bring home books that were originally from the Reading Room, which Bradley strongly welcomes.
Community Services Sgt. Blake Kuntz said the Bethlehem Police Department works with the Cops ‘n’ Kids program on a regular basis. He walked in the Celebration of Reading parade on April 23 and helped coordinate the safety of kids in the parade.
The Bethlehem Police Department volunteers multiple times throughout the summer and at Cops ‘n’ Kids events, according to Kuntz. He said the officers take time to do crafts and read with the kids.
“It’s very important to the kids because it gives them an opportunity to get outside, to meet other members in their community, to interact with friends and family in a fun environment,” Kuntz said. “Where they can learn through reading and get free books that they may not have access to.”
Bethlehem Police also help in the collection of children’s books in the community. Kuntz said Bradley sometimes contacts him for assistance, such as the other day when he was called upon to pick up 64 boxes of books at Salisbury Middle School. Kuntz said he and fellow officers grabbed a van and a police trailer to go pick up the boxes.
Kuntz said police representation at community events such as the Cops ‘n’ Kids Celebration of Reading matters in establishing trust in community figures and resources.
“If there is an emergency in their life, or something happens to them or their family member, they have that positive interaction (with the police) to hopefully help them,” Kuntz said. “Because if they don’t have the positive and they just see the negative, they might have a false perception of police or the fire department.”
One little girl in attendance at the Cops ‘n’ Kids Celebration of Reading event had one clear favorite part of the Cops N’ Kids Celebration of Reading event: the cops.
In an entire reserved parking lot full of youth activities consisting of parachutes and scooters, fruit smoothies, and arts and crafts, Esmary Baez’s daughter came back to the police officer’s tent 10 times.
Baez, a mother in the Southside community, said her preschool-age daughter is fascinated by police officers, so Baez wants her to know that she can grow up to be one, too. Baez said she looks to address stereotypes about police officers in general so her daughter can trust that they will protect her and the community.
“I don’t want my daughter to think that they’re (bad) when you need them,” Baez said. “They’re good people, not every officer is bad. I want to show my daughter the good stuff that they do.”
Kuntz still remembers the little girl. He said she continues to seek out the police and recognizes their faces.
“She knew the horses were going to be here, and she had the opportunity to come and finally check them out,” Kuntz said of the young girl. “So it was really special for her to see some familiar faces and just thinking of the joy that she had will be something we’ll remember.”
Cops ‘n’ Kids holds a summer reading series including 21 events in a partnership with Barnes and Noble bookstore, Bradley said. She said if young readers attend at least 10 events, they can choose any book they want from Barnes and Noble, or Cops ‘n’ Kids, free of charge.
Having been raised by a single mother, Bradley said that she is very conscious of the situation facing single parents. If affording food is the first item of business, children’s literacy development is one of the lower priorities that families in financial struggle have the time or energy for.
After last summer’s final community reading event, Bradley said a mother called her out into the hallway. The mother’s three little girls had attended every reading event during that summer and brought home more than $150 worth of books.
Bradley said young children in the community need role models to look up to, particularly to feel inspired to achieve future goals.
“My hope is that we provide an environment where (the kids) are around lovely, young people,” Bradley said. “We have a lot of young children who come from poverty, who have no awareness of their potential and the possibilities that exist for them.”