Stuffed with care
The Forest City police and fire departments are now home to more than 230 cuddly teddy bears and a variety of stuffed animals thanks to the efforts of East Rutherford High School senior Eli Yelton.
In an attempt to help emergency personnel in Rutherford County build and maintain positive relationships with children, Yelton coordinated the collection of the stuffed animals at local businesses and churches with the aid of Forest City Police Lieutenant Eric Shelton, who is serving as Yelton's mentor for his senior project on the survey of police operations.
"I've been working for a month collecting these stuffed animals, and I knew the police department did this in recent years and wanted it to continue," said Yelton, who is interested in a career in criminal justice and law enforcement. "I'm very pleased with what we've collected so far, and we're still collecting more animals."
Yelton's father helped inspire him with the idea of collecting stuffed animals for his senior project.
"I helped with the prison system last year, collecting stuffed animals and distributing them to kids and families at the hospital around the holidays," said David Yelton, a Sergeant at Foothills Correctional Institution. "That project helped with Eli's idea this year with the Forest City Police Department."
The stuffed animals collected by Yelton will be distributed by police officers and firefighters at their departments, as well as when they are dispatched to traumatic calls involving children such as motor vehicle accidents, fires and domestic violence scenes.
"We give the animals to kids involved in these traumatic experiences because it provides them with something cuddly and positive to focus on versus the negative experience they may have just been involved with," said Police Chief Jay Jackson. "We will also be giving some of the animals to less fortunate kids this holiday season."
Jackson and Shelton said providing stuffed animals to children also helps police officers and firefighters foster positive relationships with kids from a young age.
"This is a really good tool for reaching out to children and starting their experiences with police officers off on a positive note," Shelton said. "We hope these positive relationships will last throughout their lives, and Eli has done such a great job and has worked hard to make this project successful."