Twin Lakes EMT Jill Evans shops with Cecelia Mrozek during the 10th Annual Shop with a Hero program sponsored by the Twin Lakes Professional Police Association.

Twin Lakes EMT Jill Evans shops with Cecelia Mrozek during the 10th Annual Shop with a Hero program sponsored by the Twin Lakes Professional Police Association.

Area students shopped with local police and emergency personnel

By Anne Trautner

Staff Writer

When Twin Lakes Police Officer Kevin Saunders called certain students out of their classrooms at Randall and Lakewood schools, the youngsters were nervous.

All 24 summoned children were afraid they had done something wrong.

When Saunders told the students that they had been picked to go on a shopping spree through the “Shop with a Hero” program, the youth breathed a sigh of relief. Then they reacted as if they had won the lottery.

A couple girls kept saying, “Why did I get picked? I don’t understand why I got picked.”

“They were just shocked that they got this opportunity,” Saunders said.

 

Shop with a Hero

School staff selected students with good performance in grades 4K through eighth grade to participate in the program, which is organized by the Twin Lakes Professional Police Association (TLPPA).

Each child received $150 in spending money. All the money was raised through donations from local businesses, with a major donation from the Genoa City Lions Club, said Saunders, Shop with a Hero coordinator.

The day began at the Twin Lakes Fire Department, where students and heroes (Twin Lakes police officers, emergency dispatchers, EMTs and firefighters) enjoyed donuts and refreshments.

Each student was paired up with a hero, and the duos went shopping at the Lake Geneva Wal-Mart in December.

Wilmot High School student photographers Ashley Smith and Charlie Mohring documented the event with still shots.

While the children and heroes shopped, parents and guardians waited in Wal-Mart’s McDonald’s, where they received free soda and coffee.

When children finished shopping, volunteers from Randall School and Lakewood School, as well as family members of the heroes wrapped the gifts that children had purchased.

“By the time we actually brought the child back to the parent, if they bought Mom and Dad a present, it would be wrapped, so they wouldn’t know what it was. Then they can surprise them on Christmas,” Saunders said.

After the shopping excursion was completed, Driftwood restaurant in Twin Lakes hosted a free pizza party for all the children, their families and the heroes.

 

A good light

“It was a whole morning of getting to associate with the children in a good light,” Saunders said. “It is a way to connect with the kids of the village in a different way from sometimes how they normally see us coming to calls. It’s a good environment for us to connect with them.”

By having one-on-one contact with the children, the heroes form a bond with the youth.

And the children remember that bond, Saunders said.

“We have been out shopping at Richter’s Marketplace, and they come up to the heroes and say hi to them because they know them from the Shop with the Hero event,” Saunders said.

The bond has helped in cases where the heroes made emergency calls at people’s houses because somebody was ill, Saunders said.

“The rescue squad, fire and police were all there, and they have recognized one of the heroes from the Shop with the Hero event. (Families) have actually asked if they could have one of those heroes because they were treating a family member. They remembered this hero, and that hero came and talked to the child and calmed them down while mom was being treated,” Saunders said.

In addition to sponsoring the program, the Twin Lakes Professional Police Association funds the National Night Out on the first Tuesday of August every year. Emergency personnel give demonstrations at the event, and fire trucks and police cars are displayed.

“It is another chance for the kids to interact with the police and fire department not on an emergency call,” Saunders said.

 

Money lessons

This year, about $3,600 was raised for the “Shop with a Hero” program, enough to sponsor shopping sprees for 24 kids.

A total of 286 children have now shopped through the Twin Lakes Shop with a Hero since the program started in 2004.

In addition to getting to know the heroes, the children in the program learn how to budget for buying gifts.

“We work with them, we have a sheet, we keep track of how much they are spending,” Saunders said.

Some of the youth have a method to their shopping madness.

“Some of them do a little pre-shopping and go around and plan things out the day before, and kind of have a list and a strategy down,” Saunders said.

Those shoppers finished in about 20 minutes, while others took about 40 minutes to pick out gifts, Saunders said.

Still, many of the heroes give a little extra money out of their pocket so that the children can buy everything they want, even if they go a little over in price, Saunders said.

One firefighter, who likes to remain anonymous, gives an extra $150 out of his pocket to one child each year. That lucky shopper gets to purchase $300 worth of merchandise.

 

True heroes

All of the heroes look forward to donating their time to participate in the event, Saunders said.

“We enjoy doing this. It is kind of our thing we love doing every year,” Saunders said.

It is very rewarding, he said.

“I like getting the time to interact and to getting to know the kid,” Saunders said. “I watch them pick gifts out for their family and themselves, and get to see the joy on their face.”

Many of the children spend most of the money they receive on others, Saunders said.

“Some of the kids spend only a quarter of the money on themselves. They want to buy their friends and families things,” Saunders said.

One child spent more than $100 on toys that the child donated to patients in the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

“Some of these kids are very selfless,” Saunders said.

 

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