Footie fun forges community connections

The New Westminster Police Department's annual week-long soccer school has been building ties between local kids and local cops for 35 years.

Over the next two months, Arloa Popke knows she’s going to get a lot more waves from local youngsters as she goes about her work on the streets of New Westminster.

In 25 years, the local police constable has never missed a year coaching at the New Westminster Police Department’s soccer school, and every year she says the camp reinforces ties with local kids.

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“For a couple months after the camp, I get waves like crazy,” she told the Record at the camp at Queen’s Park this week. “I see them playing street hockey, and we’ll usually pull over if we have time and chit chat with the kids.”

The camp, for children aged five to 10, is now in its 35th year and mixes soccer fun with police and fire department activities, like a police dog demonstration, a fire-safety obstacle course and play time in water spraying out of a fire department pumper truck.

For Popke, who uses some of her annual vacation time every year to attend the camp, it’s a great way to forge ties with the community – especially youngsters.

“It’s important because we want the kids to realize they can come to us at any time,” she said.

“They can ask us for help. We’re approachable; we’re not just the people who go by in the uniform or the police vehicle and drive past them.”

After more than two decades of coaching, she can pick out a lot of familiar faces – former campers – on the streets of New West.

“I see them now all grown up,” Popke said. “When I first did it, they were five years old; now they’re in their 30s. Some of them are now, of course, in their 20s, and it’s great.”

Popke is one of about 85 volunteers, including 15 local police  officers, who make the camp possible every year.

Many of the younger coaches were once campers.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” said longtime organizer Sgt. Shari Gulliver.

“At the end of the day, you leave here and you’re absolutely exhausted, but you just know how much the kids enjoy it. They just have smiles on their faces and they just leave here excited. Every year we’ll get a couple of parents that’ll email and thank us and say it’s the best time their kids have ever had; they can’t stop talking about it.”

The soccer school runs until Friday.

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© New West Record

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