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Fullerton cops, firefighters preach value of working together in city’s first Team Kids program

Fullerton cops, firefighters preach value of working together in city’s first Team Kids program

By Greg Hardesty-Behind the Badge

“How many of you have been told you’re too little to do something?”

A sea of tiny hands shoots up. 

“How about that you’re too young?” 

They shoot up again. 

The students at Rolling Hills Elementary School in Fullerton had never seen an assembly like this, with police officers and firefighters and a vivacious young woman firing off those questions.

“You are not too little to change the world!” the woman, Haley Forster, emphatically tells the cheering youngsters. “You matter, your dreams matter and you are going to change the world.”

On Thursday, April 16, Rolling Hills became the first school in Fullerton to team up with Irvine-based non-profit Team Kids, which since 2001 has been running youth-led school- and community-based service programs.

Working with police officers, firefighters, business leaders and other community members who volunteer their time --- not to mention teachers and parents --- Team Kids teaches youngsters the value of leadership, hard work and teamwork. 

A handful of Fullerton police officers and firefighters attended the afternoon kickoff assembly April 16 for the Team Kids Challenge, a three-week program during which kids compete in such activities as collecting food and clothing.

The idea is to make the students more aware of real-world issues such as homelessness and hunger, and make them more conscious about safety and the environment.

Cops and firefighters will visit the students once a week during lunch to act as mentors and talk about teamwork.

“You are not too small to make a huge difference,” Julie Hudash, founder and CEO of Team Kids, tells kindergartners through third-graders in the first of two back-to-back assemblies.

Hudash says that Rolling Hills Interim Assistant Principal Ginger Frady and Fullerton Police Sgt. Kathryn Hamel were instrumental in bringing the program to the elementary school.

“Helping people in the community has always been a part of our school,” Frady says, “but we’ve never done something on this scale before. It’s exciting.”

Fullerton Police Corp. Gabby Soto explains to the youngsters how police and firefighters work together when there’s a traffic accident.

Then she asked the kids, “Can we join your team? Is that OK?”

Squeals and cheers of approval follow.

At the kickoff assembly, students compete to fill a tub with canned food in a vivid example about the benefit of working as a team.

One team has one student, the other three.

The team with three students, of course, is the victor. 

But the student working solo, Sophia, is praised. 

“Even though Sophia is by herself, she still helps the community,” Forster says. “Sometimes you have to do the right thing by yourself.”

The Rolling Hills students this week are completing their first weekly challenge: bringing in “gently used” towels, blankets and other pet items for Barks of Love.

The week of April 30 through May 8, students are asked to bring in used books for Think Together.

The last challenge, May 7-15, is to support the non-profit Pathways of Hope by bringing in gently used clothes, shoes, canned food, toiletries for the homeless.

The Team Kids Challenge culminates on Thursday, May 21 with a run-carnival organized by fifth- and sixth-graders who volunteer to be on a Leadership Team. 

Visit teamkids.org for more information about Team Kids.