CAMDEN, NJ—Cathedral Kitchen was filled with the Camden County Police Department [CCPD] Blue Knight Explorers on Wednesday afternoon, where the aspiring law enforcement officers chopped pineapples, shucked corn and made sandwiches for Camden’s less fortunate.
“They’re all contributing to tonight’s meal, and they are contributing to their community as well,” Cathedral Kitchen Executive Director Karen Talarico said.
In its third year, CCPD’s Blue Knight Explorers program offers high school-aged youth an opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of law enforcement. Over eight weeks in the summer, the participants not only cover what it's like to work in the CCPD, but they also take trips to outside law enforcement agencies — like the New Jersey Drug Enforcement Agency in Trenton — and give back to the community.
“We’re definitely big on community service,”CCPD Detective Brenda Santiago, who leads the program, said. The explorers will also visit the Ronald McDonald House, and over the holidays hold a toy drive.
Helping out the community is why both Janiyah Brittingham and Jaylynn Wright wanted to join the Blue Knight Explorers Program.
“I really like to help, and I want to continue doing this,” Jaylnn, who at 13 hopes to follow in her parents footsteps and become a CCPD officer, said.
Janiyah, also 13, wants to be a detective because she wants to make arrests.
“It’s better for more people to help, and not just one person to make a change,” Janiyah, also 13, said. She wants to be a detective because she wants to make arrests.
The students days consist of breakfast then drill exercises at the Camden County Police Academy in the morning, then lunch and an activity in the afternoon, like prepping dinner at Cathedral Kitchen or taking on a practice detective case.
“We cover different aspects of law enforcement, so when they get older and want to pick a career, they are a little bit more well rounded and they know a couple aspects that they might be interested in,” Santiago said.
In its first year, there were seven participants, said Santiago. Now, there are almost 25, with a few coming back each year, like Janiyah, who has participated all three years.
“Once they’re involved with us, we do stay in touch throughout the year,” Santiago said. “We’ll call them maybe once a month if there is any kind of event that come up.”