NORFOLK — The summer is about to get a lot more exciting for six kids who attend the Sheriff Joe Baron Foundation Youth Camp here.
At the end of each of the three, five-day sessions, two of the “best behaved” campers will go home with a brand new bicycle, said Lt. Meryah Breeden, a sheriff’s deputy and volunteer camp counselor.
“The counselors nominate six kids who have had a good attitude and have followed the rules,” she said. “Then we put those names in a hat and pick the two who will get a bike.”
One child who exemplified model camper behavior this week is 12-year-old Christian Brown, who ended his time in the pool early to share his trunks with another camper who forgot his at home.
“His name is going in the hat for sure,” Breeden said.
Sheriff Joe Baron said the bike reward program has been going on for the last three years with the sheriff’s office initially using a portion of the camp’s grants to award just two bikes per summer.
That’s until mortgage broker and resident Steve Batton said “I’ll do that” when his friend and sheriff’s office community affairs manager, Julia Dunn, asked him if he knew anyone who’d be able to help out with the bicycles.
“Right before Julia asked me, I was talking to another friend who said she had only ever received hand-me-down bicycles when she was a kid,” he said.
After Batton personally donated six bicycles last summer, he said people were immediately interested in how they could contribute to the program.
“This year, I started a social media fundraiser and surpassed the $500 goal,” he said.
Batton said he stopped the fundraiser and put the additional $95 on a gift card for the Sheriff Joe Baron Foundation.
“I’m a believer of things happen for a reason and if you listen there are always opportunities to do good,” he said.
Baron said the sheriff’s camp at Camp Apasus started about six years ago and has become a community project with sponsors like Pepsi, who donates bottled water, and the Norfolk Public School District, who provide meals and a bus for pick-up, drop-off, and field trips.
“They always say ‘it takes a village’ so we’re truly mimicking that model with people from our Hampton Roads village helping us put on a camp the kids love,” he said.
Over five days, 60 different campers each week get to partake in activities like archery, canoeing, and 12-year-old Peyton Eckhardt’s favorite — swimming every day.
Eckhardt said he loves camp so much that he asked his mom to sign him up for a second week and “twice the fun.”
“The moment I came here I made immediate friends,” he said.
Offering a free camp is a “big deal” and is “about making a difference” Baron said.
“It makes a difference not only in the lives of the kids who come out here and do things they wouldn’t normally be able to do but it also makes a difference in the lives of parents who want something good for their children to do but otherwise couldn’t afford,” he said.