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Kids Do Time—With Someone Who Cares
Frustrated with too many young repeat offenders, an Edmonton policeman launched a program to help them.

Too often, children are rendered voiceless, finding themselves in circumstances they didn't choose.

"One of the objectives of this program is to direct young people into making positive choices about how they spend their time … "

Thankfully, an Edmonton police officer recognized this tragedy, and in turn, became actively involved in giving children a chance to be heard.

In the fall of 1998, Rick Cole arrested a 14-year-old boy for shoplifting at West Edmonton Mall. He assigned the youth to a local program, only to arrest him a few months later for the same crime, at the same location.

After investigating the situation, Cole discovered the boy hadn't even been contacted by the program, as its waiting period was six to seven months. Coles deemed this unacceptable. The boy became the first participant in what would eventually evolve into COLES Kids.

"I was frustrated … by all the repeaters—dealing with the same kids over and over again—and I made a decision that I was going to do something a little bit differently." Officer Cole told local press.

As a result, COLES Kids was born, OCLES being short for Communities, Organizations, Law Enforcement, and Schools.

Cole wrote a contract with the boy and spoke with him over the phone for the course of the year, keeping him accountable.

"One of the objectives of this program is to direct young people into making positive choices about how they spend their time," explains the 23-year police veteran, "leading them away from the temptations of crime.

The young person, their parents and police create the contract—which is unique to the child's situation—as quickly as possible after an arrest or intervention. This is one of the main reasons why the program works, Cole says.

The kids are then matched with a volunteer pastor, teacher, senior person or principal over the telephone, and communicate with them three to four times each week over the year.

"Through the telephone process we find different pieces of homework for these kids to do," explains Cole. "The homework is all success-based homework. It might involve finding different activities for them to become involved in."

Today, the program is completely volunteer-based, and only four percent re-offend while under this mentorship. In January 2004, Cole received the National Youth Justice Policing Award, which he describes as "the Stanley Cup for policemen."

During the second to last week of June, an annual Rewards Dinner honours the mentors and kids who have completed their contracts. It's the first time the mentors and the participants actually get to meet.

Then, throughout the summer months, COLES Kids actively participate in a program put on by Kids on Track, an organization with a similar vision for young people, founded by Linda Roussel our of Edmonton's People's Church in 1992.

In past years, these summer activities have included visiting the museum, swimming, going through a corn maze and taking in a water park.

Both COLES Kids and Kids on Track are founded on the belief that any life can be changed if God's involved.

Comments Kristy Chaisson, program coordinator for Kids on Track, "I have a desire to see kids in disadvantaged situations come to know [Jesus Christ]. I really believe it can mean the difference between life and death with them."

Cole, who grew up in a strong Christian home, bases his life—and program—on a verse in the Bible: Matthew 16:19, in which Jesus tells us, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven."

"When we have a burden, we can give it to God and He gives us back forgiveness and grace," Cole explains. "So whatever happens in the past is forgiven, and we can move forward."

Forgiveness is something that eight-year-old Leah has discovered, as a aresult of these programs. "It's great!" she exclaims. "You can invite Jesus into your heart, which is great, because you will have eternal life."

In spite of Cole's heavy workload, both as a patrol officer and overseer of the program, the whole experience has been a rewarding one for him.

"Seeing the changes in some of these kids is really amazing," he says.

Joe Montague is a writer based in Hamilton, Ontario.

Originally published in Living Light News, May/June 2005.




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