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August 12, 2014 | 11:52 AMBLOOMFIELD — Last year, more than 650 children attended the police department’s Kids Day Out.
On the phone Aug. 5, Kathy Seeberg of the Kids Day Out Committee, which organizes the annual event, said the turnout has been around that number for the past few years.
She thinks it’s one of Bloomfield’s largest events and expects that trend to continue Saturday, Aug. 23, when the 16th annual Kids Day Out is scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Bloomfield Town/Village Hall park, N1100 Town Hall Road.
In an email Saturday, Bloomfield Police Chief Steve Cole said there are so many positives to the event.
“I think that the best part of the event, for me, is providing a free, fun-filled day for children and their families, where they can experience a positive interaction with the police officers who serve our community,” he said. “I have enjoyed watching the event grow from around 75 kids during the first year to well over 600 kids the past few years. Even from Illinois, people come up here to play with us,” said Seeberg. “It really has become more widespread than just the Bloomfield area, and everyone walks away from it with peace of mind.”
Two main goals behind Kids Day Out are for police to build a stronger relationship with the community and to encourage parents to keep identification kits on their children.
Although those kits are provided by police during the event, Seeberg said parents take them home. Police do not keep them on file.
The kits — which include fingerprints, a DNA sample and information about a child’s physical appearance — should be updated annually, said Seeberg. “Children change so quickly.”
Once a child participates in the kit-building process, he or she can enjoy a free meal and “treasure bag,” receive a free raffle ticket and gain admission into the rest of the activities during the event.
There are many of them, including a K-9 demonstration by Spring Grove, Ill. police; a dunk tank featuring the police chief and other officers; a mock felony stop demo; and presentations by Flight For Life, the state DNR and Beat the Heat.
“There will be officers from the Genoa City Police Department, Lake Geneva Police Department, Walworth County Sheriff’s Department, Geneva Lake Law Enforcement Agency, Spring Grove Police Department, and Arlington Heights (Ill.) Police Department volunteering to work at the event,” said Cole.
“The only thing that’s really changed this year is the theme,” said Seeberg.
That’s underage drinking — or “Under 21 — You’re Too Young,” as it states on the promo materials for the event.
Cole said a function of the Kids Day Out Committee is to select a theme, and one thing its members try to avoid is repeating themes.
Since the event started in 1997, that could be a daunting task. However, Cole said he doesn’t believe this one was used before.
Seeberg said sometimes, parents tend to focus more on the “don’t do drugs” message.
“Underage drinking is illegal,” she said. “If you drink, and you’re under 21, there are consequences.”
She added it’s important to reinforce that message.
“As parents, we’re naive. We want to think that, ‘Oh, they’re only 10 or 11, and they’re not participating in underage drinking.’”
One way the committee hopes to drive the message home is using tools to simulate the effects of alcohol consumption, including something like “beer goggles.”
“We are hoping to have eye wear for the event which would simulate the effects alcohol would have on the person wearing it,” said Cole. “This eye wear is designed so that the person wearing it experiences the effects of alcohol, like blurred vision, unsteady balance, etc. I believe this may help convey our message, since the person wearing the eye wear will be able to experience some negative effects of alcohol without actually drinking it.”
The question is, will children of all ages understand it?
“I would agree that some of the children attending this year’s Kids Day Out may be too young to grasp the concept of the underage drinking theme,” said Cole. “However, there is always a wide variety of ages that come to Kids Day Out, many of which may benefit from this year’s theme. I believe that, sometimes, the learning abilities, powers of observation and the understanding of younger children are underestimated.”
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Seeberg said this is her 11th year being involved in planning Kids Day Out, which employs more than 70 volunteers to make the event happen “and we could always use more.”
She has seen that, in addition to children, adults also receive an education at the event.
A popular draw for older people is the display of confiscated items — weapons, drug paraphernalia — that is usually set up in the town/village hall.
Seeberg said that’s one of many ways adults find a way to connect with the Bloomfield officers — all of whom, including her husband, Jim, also volunteer during the event.
“It’s always been a family event. It’s always involved the identification kits. But, if you go deeper, it’s an event that brings people closer to police, helps them grow more comfortable with them. … It’s really an opportunity for the community to come in and have some fun with them.”
Cole said police couldn’t do it without everyone involved.
“I believe that Kids Day Out is so successful because of our committee members, volunteers and all of our sponsors who donate and support us every year. Although Kids Day Out was started by and hosted by the police department, its success is only possible through the hard work of our volunteers and continued support of our sponsors.”