Cops at camp
Beaverton Police Public Information Officer Mike Rowe is passionate about being a positive influence on youth.
For his ninth year, Rowe will head to the beach for six days on July 23 to be a camp counselor for children from low-income households.
Rowe said when he was given the opportunity to be a counselor at Camp Rosenbaum he jumped on it. He was the first Beaverton Police Department officer to go to camp. He said will he will continue going as long as the department allows him and then even after he retires. The department allows officers to go to the week-long camp to represent the agency.
"When I first went, I knew that I only had six days to try to build relationships with these 9- to 11-year-old kids, but I was up for the challenge," Rowe said. "The kids are so surprised when they find out at the end of camp that they spent a week with a cop."
Rowe said the reason that occupations of the volunteers are not disclosed at the beginning is so the campers can just enjoy camp and then see that they had Air Guard, police, Home Forward and other citizens who gave up a week of their lives to make this the best camp these kids will ever attend.
At Camp Rosenbaum, children participate in traditional activities such as art and science projects, leather crafts, horseback riding and fishing. They take trips to the ocean, participate in the sand castle contest and tell stories around the campfire.
Camp Rosenbaum began in 1970 and was inspired by its late founder, Brigadier Gen. Fred M. Rosenbaum. He realized that many children, especially those living in low-income housing, would benefit from a citizenship camp. His vision to help youth has grown into an annual event for more than 45 years.
Camp Rosenbaum has volunteer hours exceeding 230,000, and has provided a free camp to more than 6,500 youth. The children spend a week at the Oregon coast and volunteers teach them the value of good citizenship and encourage self-confidence.
Rosenbaum's passion to help children stems from his childhood. He survived the Holocaust in Austria, fleeing to England as a child. He was there as a foster child for two years before he was reunited with his parents and, together, they moved to the United States in 1941. Rosenbaum found opportunity in the United States through education and hard work. He went on to become a brigadier general of the Oregon National Guard, chairman of the Housing Authority of Portland, and an established businessman in the Portland community. With his experiences, he instilled in campers the importance of staying in school.
In alignment with the Rosenbaum vision, Rowe said as a 22-year veteran police officer, nine of which he worked in high schools, he realizes some people in the community feel that police officers are not there to help them and some even fear them.
"I have attended five weddings, pinned a WCSO badge and attended a college graduation at the Airforce Academy for my kids, Rowe said. "I get calls, emails and Facebook messages from these kids with life questions, advice or just to say 'hi' and see how I am doing."
He said many of the former students knew Rowe's late wife Kendall and they checked on him when she was struggling with illness prior to her death.
"The kids who come to camp are underserved and likely might have more exposure to law enforcement, and it might not be a positive experience for them," Rowe said.
"I knew that the campers did not know they were spending six days with police officers and that some of them were even their counselors," Rowe said. "I felt that this was going to be a major positive and lasting experience for the kids. I want them to be able to look back on a positive experience with police so the next time they see a police officer they are not scared and can share with their friends that cops are good and funny people."
Program Director of Camp Rosenbaum Melissa Sonsalla said all of the campers come from families who are living in low-income housing.
Camp Rosenbaum partners with housing authorities throughout Oregon and in Southwest Washington. Many campers are from Washington County. The housing authorities recruit and refer children they think would benefit from a week at Camp Rilea.
The camp serves approximately 175 campers per year, who are boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 11. It boasts a one-to-one camper-to-staff ratio.
"This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Campers are only allowed to attend Camp Rosenbaum once, in hopes that we can reach as many children as possible," Sonsalla said.
The housing authorities that refer children pay a small stipend for each of the campers, but Camp Rosenbaum is free to the families who send their children.
"We know summer camps are expensive and it's important to us to be able to offer this to kids who otherwise might not have the opportunity to go to an overnight camp," Sonsalla said.
She added most of the children who attend Camp Rosenbaum have never been to an overnight camp before. Some have never seen the ocean.
Rowe said of his camp experience, "It is by far the hardest and most physically and mentally exhausting thing I do all year, but is also the most exciting thing I do in a year."
Rowe said when camp is over, "there are a lot of tears and kids who were strangers exchanging phone numbers so they can stay in touch. There are hundreds of hugs given and tears wiped from their faces and ours."
For more information, visit camprosenbaum.org.