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updated: 6/10/2012 6:20 AM

Elgin police program keeps kids busy over summer

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An Elgin Police Department youth summer program is getting an extra jolt of leadership skill-building this year.

Kids United started out as an open-gym-style service to give kids a place to go while school was out, but it has evolved into a more sophisticated program offering field trips and activities that promote communication and leadership skills.

"We try to address the whole kid," said Elgin Police Sgt. Gary Neal, who coordinates the program.

Students ages 8 to 16 can participate in the free program, funded largely by Elgin Township. Mondays and Wednesdays are set aside for 12- to 16-year-olds, with Tuesdays and Thursdays geared to younger kids. Fridays are for field trips, and Neal said there are plans to take kids to museums, ball games and ropes courses.

Elgin Township Supervisor Annette Miller said the board annually awards $20,000 to the Elgin Police Department for Kids United out of a $75,000 pool set aside for youth program funding.

"The numbers have grown over the years tremendously," Miller said. "We feel as a board that it's just a very, very good investment."

Elgin Police Cmdr. Bill Wolf said crime routinely increases over the summer, and part of the higher call volume comes when kids who normally would be busy with school have extra time on their hands.

The open-gym idea was envisioned as a way to keep kids off the streets and busy.

"That was fine, to a certain extent, and it did have a positive effect," Wolf said. "Then we thought, 'We have all these kids involved in these programs, why don't we try to do something more with it?'"

About 500 students are expected to enroll in the program, with about 100 showing up each night. Kids United is offered from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m., following up on afternoon activities with the Boys and Girls Club.

The extra leadership component this year will be offered primarily to the 14- to 16-year-olds. Neal said the skill-building will help young high schoolers communicate and lead, like they'll need to do in school clubs or on sports teams.

The emphasis will be on interactive teaching opportunities, rather than classroom-style lectures.

Neal said the program prepares students to be good citizens. Anyone from Elgin can enroll as long as they meet the age restrictions. Registration is ongoing throughout the summer during the program hours starting Monday, June 11, at Abbott Middle School, 949 Van St., Elgin.

While the program is not restricted to at-risk youth, Neal said in Elgin's juvenile investigations a lot of kids are repeat offenders. Kids United gives the police department a chance at intervention.

"Here's our opportunity to keep them involved in things so they don't have time to be involved in gangs," Neal said.

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