One morning last week, five-year-old Willa and her dad Eric were zipping along Beach Avenue on their bikes to her morning swim lesson at KBIA, the summer day camp here at Kennebunk Beach. Suddenly, a police officer, also bicycling on Beach Avenue, hollered, “Please stop.”
Eric had no idea why they were “pulled over.” He said, “I couldn’t figure out what Willa and I were doing wrong.”
The police officer approached the cute kindergartner with brown braids, and said, “Congratulations! Because you are wearing your bike helmet, I’m giving you a gift certificate for a free ice cream at Dairy Queen in Kennebunk.” Whoa!
Willa has been summering at her grandparents’ house since she was born. When not making drizzle castles on the beach, she and older sister Maxine take swimming, diving and tennis lessons at KBIA. Their mother Julie says, “I was a KBIA counselor, and I signed them up for classes the minute they were old enough.”
But neither girl had EVER been stopped by the police.
Apparently, this “reward for good behavior” started four years ago in Kennebunk. As described by Lt. Eric O’Brien of the Kennebunk Police Department, “The program runs from late spring to early fall. We have officers out on the road who, when they are not on an emergency call, are specifically looking for elementary and middle school children wearing helmets when they bike.”
“We’re trying to teach these kids early on about bike safety. But that’s not all. We want them to have positive interaction with the police — to know that we are here for them, if they ever need us. And besides, who doesn’t like ice cream?”
Lt. O’Brien pointed out that the DQ certificates are “limited — we don’t have an endless supply, so it’s a lucky child who gets one.” And, he insisted, “the officers absolutely cannot use them!”
During the school year, the Kennebunk Police Department stages bike rodeos and National Nights Out where they teach every aspect of bike safety. They send resource officers to the elementary, middle and high schools as mentors to help raise awareness of drug prevention and anti-bullying techniques. O’Brien says, “Our goal is also to strengthen neighborhood spirit and foster good police and community partnerships.”
Willa is just happy they have the summer DQ program. Several days ago, she and her sister (who told me they “ALWAYS wear bike helmets”), went to DQ to cash in the certificate. How sweet is that.