By Stephanie Lowry
BROWN COUNTY – The REACH-A-Child organization is making a difference in the lives of children in crisis situations.
Founded in 2007, the program was created to address the need for a resource that could help first responders comfort and distract children during stressful situations.
Since then, the program has distributed hundreds-of-thousands of books to the first responders they support, at no cost to them.
REACH-A-Child is a non-profit organization and relies on the assistance of the community to do what they do.
“Part of the story is when you operate at the intersection of children and first responders, people are very generous,” said Curtis Fuszard, REACH-A-Child executive director. “Our basic business model is we gather money from the community, and then put it back into the community in the form of these books and backpacks.”
In each department they assist, every squad or emergency vehicle is equipped with what is called a “REACH BAG.”
These durable backpacks contain a variety of children’s books and a drawstring bag so first responders can take a child in need to a safe place — typically their vehicle — and read to them from a book of their choosing to distract them from the crisis they might be experiencing.
“We never ever use stuffed animals, because if you can imagine a child holding a stuffed animal, where are they looking? Their eyes are probably on the scene of the accident or crisis. With a book, their eyes are on the book and the officer is able to help distract the child from the situation,” Fuszard added.
Fuszard said that around 80% of the books they give out are used in positive situations.
“One of the members of our advisory board, Sergeant Tommy Foy, said to me ‘I’ll park my vehicle on a city street, and if I see kids hanging around or playing basketball, I’ll ask them who likes to read books and hand them out. I’ll tell them that the next time I see them, if they can tell me what the book was about, I’ll give them another one.’ So, they go out and look for opportunities to nurture relationships,” he explained.
For several years, the Brown County Sheriff’s Office has participated in the REACH-A-Child program, recognizing its potential to facilitate positive interactions between law enforcement and children in the community.
Captain John Rosseau of the Brown County Sheriff’s office spoke about the program’s significance, highlighting its ability to provide favorable experiences and establish trust. “Programs such as REACH-A-Child allow our deputies to be able to have a positive interaction with the children we meet in the community. It gives us a way to have that interaction and hopefully make their experience with law enforcement a positive one,” Rosseau stated.
He added that some of their interactions begin under distressing circumstances, such as car accidents, where children often feel confused and disoriented.
“In those cases, it gives us a chance to talk about books, get their mind off of that bad thing that happened, and make their day a little brighter,” he said.
Rosseau said he has witnessed numerous instances where a REACH bag served as the catalyst for improved experiences.
He noted that these encounters are not limited to calls for service, as deputies actively engage with children in parks, during community events and through proactive outreach.
He said that the program serves as a versatile tool to connect law enforcement and children, irrespective of the reason for the encounter.
Rosseau emphasized the importance of ensuring children feel comfortable and confident that law enforcement will be there for them when needed.
For more information on REACH-A-Child, visit www.reachachild.org.