Team Spotlight Apr 17

Creating Safer Spaces Team Spotlight: Deputy Vanessa Williams, Berrien County Sheriff's Dept.

We are committed at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor to providing a safe and fun environment where our members can learn and grow. Berrien County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Vanessa Williams is an important part of doing just that for the past year. Even more, she has become a resource and another caring, trusting adult who is mentoring Club members, both youth and teens.

Club member survey data disclosed our members’ concern about safely coming to and leaving the Club sites. We measure member satisfaction with both physical and emotional safety in and around our buildings. A 2016 Boys & Girls Clubs of America survey further described that approximately half of all teens nationwide reported they were fearful of interacting with law enforcement. One-third of respondents said there were not enough opportunities for young people and law enforcement to learn to trust one another. 
While the national conversation today frequently focuses on the issues that exist between law enforcement and communities, the partnership between the Club and the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department is changing that conversation. Last year, the Clubs contracted with the sheriff’s department to assign Deputy Williams as a full-time resource officer, working between the Fettig Youth Campus and the Joel E. Smilow Teen Center.  

Deputy Williams addresses the lack of trust and fear so many members have, particularly adolescent boys, for law enforcement officers. Her primary goal is to establish caring, positive relationships with youth members. As trusting relationships are created, she is often informed of and asked to solve problems at home or school. Those bonds have helped to create trust among members, parents, schools, juvenile court, and other law enforcement agencies. Emergency preparedness at the Clubs has 
also improved with the Sheriff’s Department Emergency Preparedness Office creating plans to drill and respond to emergency situations. We partially attribute a 20% increase in average daily attendance last year to the safe environment that members and parents choose as the Boys & Girls Club becomes their preferred out-of-school provider. 

Most recently, Deputy Williams and Deputy Mike Troup attended a three-day training course at the Michigan State Police training center in Lansing where they were both certified as community resource officers. The deputies are now able to teach Club members about the law, as well as how to cope with and respond to issues like peer pressure and bullying. “Using what we learned allows us, as law enforcement officers, to speak to the kids on a different level. It also helps us figure out the best approach for different age groups,” said Deputy Williams. “Knowledge is power and we want kids to be powerful as we teach Club members how the law impacts them, to avoid making risky decisions, and to improve relationships that serve as another resource when they need to talk.”  

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