At the Howell Lanes on Friday a young child asked an adult next to him to help him get a strike on his next throw. Working together the pair knocked down all but two pins but it still made for a memorable experience as the young bowler was a student in the Howell schools and his partner was a member of the Howell Police Department.
More than 40 officers from the local department made the trip to the local lanes for what has become an annual tradition bringing them together with some of the special needs students in the district.
Cpl. John Weg said when the program first started the PBA was giving presents away to all students before focusing on one particular group. "We wanted to make sure these kids have an extra special day in their lives," he said. "They're all pumped up about Christmas but they're also pumped up about coming here, seeing Santa Claus, bowling with a police officer and picking out a present."
It is a full schedule from the time the students arrive to when they get on the bus to head back to school but Det. Christopher Nagy said it is a day the officers look forward to all year. "It's to the point where we just send out an email letting them know the date and the guys show up," he said. Even officers with the day off still make a point to take the time to bowl with the students.
One of the highlights for the PBA, he said, is going toy shopping at the Howell Target location the Friday before Thanksgiving to make sure they have plenty of gifts to give the young bowlers to cap off the day. The gifts are bought with money they raise during the year and with the help of the Target employees. Nagy said gifts are also donated by employees of the local New Jersey Transit bus facility. "We have a lot of great people that chip in," he said.
Target employee Mike Wechsler said from the time the officers come in to do the shopping to the time the kids receive the presents it is "an honor," to be a part of the activities. "Whatever they need we open the doors," he said. "We never turn down anything the PAL or PBA has done."
This year Target also brought their mascot Bullseye to help celebrate the day as he stood alongside Mr. and Mrs. Claus. "It was a great feeling to watch the kids run up to him and hug him and touch his nose," Wechsler said. "Its been a tough year in this area so to give them a couple hours with a smile on their face is worth it."
Members of the local school board and the administration also turned out for the day to see how much the students were enjoying themselves. "I think they needed the release," said Superintendent Enid Golden. "This is something they look forward to all year."
Golden said in addition being a fun day it is also an education day for many of the children. "A lot of these children are working on social skills and this is a perfect opportunity to work on the social aspect of it."
She also said having the students stand side by side with the officers in their uniforms helps them out of school as well. "The kids see police officers as friends. They know they're the good guys and I think it's a great community spirit effort."
Board President Tim O'Brien said it was another example of the local police department and school district working together. "We're blessed with a terrific police department in this town," he said. "They have always been an integral part of our community in every aspect."
Seeing days like Friday when they can work together to help the students, he said, "strengthens both sides."