CHATHAM — Many young people from the inner city don't often experience camping, which is why organizers started the annual Peace in the Park After Dark event which matches cops with kids under the stars.
This year 119 youths between 11 and 17 years old will participate in the camp out at Nat King Cole Park, along with 22 police officers and 44 volunteers in the fourth annual event.
The event begins at 1 p.m. on Aug. 23 and concludes at 8 a.m. on Aug. 24 at Cole, 361 E. 85th St.
"The children will receive a first-hand lesson in camping when they arrive. But, beyond that, officers will mentor to them in hopes of forming a bond and to show them that police officers are human beings, too," said Officer Maurice Thigpen, who works with the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy at the Sixth District in Auburn Gresham.
"Everyone will sleep in tents and get that great outdoors experience. And, upon leaving, all children will receive a free book bag and school supplies," said Thigpen, who grew up in Englewood and has worked in the Sixth District for the last 23 years.
Thigpen added that the young people and officers would talk about bullying, gangs, drugs and education. Over a camp fire, they will also toast marshmallows donated by Walmart in West Chatham and eat pizza donated by Reggio's Pizza Inc. in Chatham. The next day, they'll enjoy a breakfast provided by McDonald's in Chatham.
According to Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), whose ward includes Cole Park, the park will remain open to the public.
"I'm there every year. It is good to see our kids having fun while learning something new," Sawyer said.
Registration for the event closed in July but Thigpen encourages parents to sign up their kids for next year's camp out at the Sixth District, 7808 S. Halsted St., starting in June. Some 120 kids attended last year.
"The event is open to all youth from across the city. It is an excellent way to reach youth and let them know [the police] not only protect and serve, but we also volunteer for worthy causes like this one," Thigpen said.
Officer Thomas Wortham IV — who was shot and killed in 2010 when a group of men tried to rob him of his motorcycle — grew up playing in Cole Park and was president of the park Advisory Council. "By doing this event, it gives us a way to keep his memory alive," said Thigpen.
Wortham's parents live across the street from Cole Park. During the attempted robbery, one of the four robbers was killed during a shootout with Wortham's father, a retired police officer.
Carolyn Wortham, Thomas' mother, recalled that her son "always wanted the kids of today to be able to experience the fun times he had at Cole Park when he was younger."
"My husband and I, along with our daughter, are members of the park's Advisory Council, and we participate every year in the Peace in the Park event. It's a wonderful tribute to Tommy."