By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The kids took a boat ride, went zip-lining, visited the zoo, hung out with the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol, had surfing lessons and even learned how to make pizza.
The weeklong whirlwind of activity happened last year during the Sea Isle Police Department’s first-ever kids summer camp, a community outreach program that allowed the children and cops to bond with each other.
“I don’t know who had more fun, the kids or the officers,” Police Chief Tom McQuillen said.
The department was planning to hold the Summer Police Camp again this year, but just announced it has reluctantly canceled it because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The overriding principle was the safety and well-being of the kids,” McQuillen explained in an interview Saturday.
The department simply couldn’t move forward with all of the planning and reservations that were needed to line up so many kid-friendly activities amid safety concerns during pandemic, he added.
“It was a very, very difficult decision,” McQuillen said. “It’s another example of the times we live in.”
Noting the camp’s popularity, he stressed that the department plans to bring it back for the summer of 2021.
“If it was not the best (public outreach event) we ever started, it was one of the top three,” he said. “It was very popular. The kids really loved it.”
The camp attracted 25 local middle-school kids, a mix of girls and boys, for an array of activities packed in over five days last summer.
The campers were from towns in Cape May County, including Sea Isle, Ocean City, Upper Township, Lower Township, Middle Township, Marmora and Dennis Township.
They included students from sixth, seventh and eighth grades. That age group was selected because it is considered an important time in the kids’ lives to build a positive relationship with police officers.
The entire camp was funded through donations from local businesses. There was no specific fee for families, although a $20 donation was requested.
A boat ride, surf lessons, a trip to the Cape May County Zoo and zip-lining were some of the highlights of the camp.
One day included an outing at Morey’s Piers in Wildwood for amusement rides and games. The children also visited the Cape May County Police Academy in Cape May Court House to meet with officers and watch some K-9 and SWAT demonstrations. They also spent time with Sea Isle’s lifeguards.
The camp culminated with a barbecue and games. On Aug. 6, the kids graduated during a ceremony at National Night Out.