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Sipsey’s New Hope Baptist Church kids befriend police, have fears easedcomment (0)

October 16, 2003

By Martine G. Bates

A group of children from New Hope Baptist Church, Berry, learned to befriend police while at the Children’s Hands-On Museum in Tuscaloosa.

Renee Smith, children’s minister at the Sipsey Association church, planned the outing to Police Friendly Day and 15 children of the church attended. The museum gave children the opportunity to meet and talk with a police officer.

Smith chose the trip because of concerns the children expressed about a missing child just north of Tuscaloosa.

The children’s concerns arose over Shae Ross, an 11-year-old from Northport, disappearing Aug. 19 while walking to her school bus stop. In spite of searches with helicopters, search dogs and volunteers, no trace of the girl has been found. Although none of the New Hope children knew Ross, they saw the missing posters and heard about her.

“The children have asked so many questions and been so concerned about the little girl who’s missing,” Smith said. “We thought it would be a good opportunity for them to speak to a police officer and ask questions that we couldn’t answer. I want to tell them what they need to hear, but sometimes we just don’t know how to answer their questions.”

The children voiced fears that they might be abducted, and Smith felt the police officer, Corporal Lisa Marshall-Thomas of the Tuscaloosa Police Department, allayed their fears.

“Some of our children have been so burdened for the little girl. They pray for her, and they just can’t understand how she could still be gone,” Smith said.

Marshall-Thomas, dressed in uniform, including gun and baton, led the children. She was patient with the children, answering their questions about the missing child in caring and understandable ways, Smith said.

“They all had a lot of questions about Ross. The officer talked about what to do around strangers and said to keep someone with you and not go off by yourself,” Smith noted.

According to Pat James, museum educator for public programs, the event was part of a series that will also include firemen and hospital personnel.

James described the officer as patient with the children, coaxing the shy ones into relaxing and participating.

The New Hope group was part of 35 children, all eager to attend the event. “At that age, they all want to be policemen and other community helpers. They were all in awe of her (Marshall-Thomas),” James said.

Marshall-Thomas, a firearms and handcuffs instructor, taught children about the reality of police work.

Real-life heroes

“My six-year-old really gets into shows like ‘Walker, Texas Ranger,’” Marshall-Thomas explained. “Our line of work doesn’t often involve all that they show on TV,” she said.

“They asked things like her favorite and least favorite parts of the job. She told the children that her favorite part was what she was doing right then. One little boy asked how fast criminals could run. Marshall-Thomas replied, ‘Just a little bit faster than the police,’” Smith said with a smile.

“It was more than I expected. I expected to see a display, but I didn’t expect her to let the children climb all over the police car — that really excited them,” Smith said. “They got to sit in the driver’s seat and have pictures made. I was also surprised at the time she took up with them. She was wonderful.”

New Hope Pastor Max Stripling said, “It’s good for our children to have some heroes besides movie stars and others that are not good role models. It’s also good for them to learn more about people who are helping the community.”

During lunch the children discussed what they had learned. Several children expressed surprise that they should wear helmets for safety when riding bikes, even in the country.

“One thing Marshall-Thomas told my  older son, Jamison, that really stood out in  his mind was that people can be police  officers all their lives and never shoot  anyone. They are there to help people,” Smith said.

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