ESTES PARK, Colo. -- A very special summer camp just wrapped up at YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. The kids met their counselors on the first day, but didn't find out who they really were until they were ready to go home.
They spent a week together, bonding, team-building and becoming friends. And then they got the surprise of a lifetime on graduation day.
The Colorado branch of Volunteers of America and The Daniels Fund selected 75 deserving kids from Denver and Aurora to attend the camp for free. Some of the kids had never been camping, or even out of the city before. Some went horseback riding and sat by a campfire for the very first time.
Not all of the kids were happy to be there. Counselor Erin Nelssen said, "I've got Amar. His first day, he wouldn`t talk to me, he was dead set going home tomorrow." Amar Favors is going into the 7th grade back home in Aurora. He said, "I'm homesick. I've never been far from home before." His group of campers and counselors convinced him to stay. His reservations started to disappear. He made it through the whole week and decided archery was his favorite activity.
They had several unexpected moments, like when a storm rolled in while they were hiking. As they ran for shelter, they spotted a momma bear and two cubs. Camper Knox said, "The best part of the whole camp was me seeing the bear. We were doing the hike ... saw it out of the corner of my eye!" Another camper, Isaiah Arellano said he wasn't scared at all, "I would've been, but they were just minding their own business off in the wild."
The kids and the counselors bonded, playing games and working as a team. The counselors became their friends as well, answering endless questions from kids like Isaiah. One of his counselors said, "This guy would ask me a thousand questions and he already knew the answer to the questions he was asking."
But he didn't know one thing. Until the final night. The counselors finally revealed a secret they had kept all week long. At graduation, from the back of the gym, the counselors marched in. The kids turned to see 22 men and women in full police uniforms. The men and women they had come to know as "cool" and "funny" and "caring" were actually Denver and Aurora police officers.
The video shows the shock on their faces. Some say they have a new found respect for men and women in blue. Atreyu Tucker said, "I hope more people can have this experience and have fun doing this ... and be surprised like I was. It means a lot because the community I grew up in is not the safest or the nicest but these cops come out here and do their best just to make it better."
His counselor, Officer Jordan O'Neill from Aurora Police said, "This is one of my favorite weeks I have had in my entire life. So when I got to meet these guys and hang out and be friends and play football with them and teach them things and be taught things ... it was an amazing experience. And then when we put on our uniform and the shock this guy they’ve been hanging out with is a police officer, I loved that shock in their eyes."
Camp POSTCARD stands for Police Officers Striving to Create and Reinforce Dreams.
Officer Erin Nelssen from the Denver Police Department said, "I think it shows them we’re not just a uniform and a badge, we are really people and this week we have a unique opportunity to show them we’re people first, then we show them the uniform and the badge. It's huge, they’re young enough they haven’t made concrete opinions about who people are. It’s just a way to plant a seed there is more to everybody. There’s always more to someone than you initially see."
Volunteers of America, Daniels Fund and The Denver Police Department have made this possible for the past two years. Aurora Police sent two officers this year. They are hoping to expand the program in the future. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, here's a link to more information.