More than a few Maine law enforcement officers and first responders are counting down the days to “Demo Day,” which this year, happens on June 20. “Demo Day” is one of the highlights of Camp POSTCARD, a week-long free summer camp where all the counselors are law enforcement officers, corrections officers, 9-1-1 dispatchers and first responders who volunteer their time at camp. (The POSTCARD part stands for Police Officers Striving to Create and Reinforce Dreams.)

The Volunteers of America Northern New England, a nonprofit based here in the Mid-coast in Brunswick operates Camp POSTCARD in partnership with the Maine Sheriffs Association and the Maine D.A.R.E. Officers Association. I first encountered Camp POSTCARD back when I served on the Bath Police Department and I was a D.A.R.E. officer. Now, as a member of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, I’m still with them.

“Demo Day” is short for “demonstration” and it’s a favorite of both the kids and the counselors. We bring in a lot of big, exciting, and educational machinery for the kids to climb on and learn about. Everything from police cars to float planes, from fire trucks to ambulances — all tools of our trades, but things that kids can learn about and then be less afraid of when they see them in action.

A traditional part of “Demo Day” is having all the sheriffs, deputies, and officers, don kitchen aprons and chefs’ hats — made by the campers — and then serve lunch to the kids. We may look a little goofy, but it’s so gratifying to see the kids smile and have some uninterrupted fun for a whole week. Serving them lunch is actually a humbling experience for all of us.

Camp POSTCARD is free for every kid who attends and there are more kids who should come than can be accommodated. Many of these kids couldn’t go to camp if it weren’t free. Each year, we strive to get a few more kids into camp because the experience really can be life changing for them. At the very least, it’s a week of lifelong memories — and we hope a few life skills.

A broad range of kids come to Camp POSTCARD. Fifth- and Sixth-graders from all 16 counties are nominated by teachers, guidance counselors, or others in their communities for a number of reasons, but most of them are dealing with something. It could be a death in the family, difficulty in school, or a parent or sibling may be incarcerated. The kids who come are for the most part, in need of a week of fun, surrounded by people who want to help them, guide them, and encourage them to have confidence in themselves and to make good choices in their day-to-day lives.

Talk to any cop, firefighter, game warden, corrections officer, or nurse who’s ever spent time at Camp POSTCARD and they’re likely to tell you they get as much out of it as the kids. Sure, we’re there as counselors, helping them to swim, row a boat, learn to fish, and play well with others, but we’re also learning how much some of these children are dealing with and how important it is to know what’s going on in their lives and in their heads. It reminds us on a very personal level that our profession, our mission is to protect and serve. And during Camp POSTCARD, it’s just as important to serve lunch and all that comes with it.

Joel Merry is the sheriff of
Sagadahoc County.

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