Thirty-nine NYPD Far Rockaway and Harlem Giants players between the ages of 9-14, along with eight NYPD officers, ended their summer break on a high note with a free sleepaway camp at Camp Fiver in Poolville, New York.
The Summer camp experience was a collaboration with the Fiver Children’s Foundation, a year-round youth development program with a 10-year commitment for young people ages 8-18 and funded with a grant through the Camp-School Partnership Demonstration Program in collaboration with the American Camp Association and the National Summer Learning Association. Additional financial support came from the NYPD and National Grid Foundations.
The retreat, held from Aug. 20 through Aug. 23, had been in the works for about a year and was the brainchild of NYPD Youth Coordination P.O. Andre Jean-Pierre, who, along with his twin brother Jonathan, are alumni of Fiver’s 10-year program.
The camp is part of the Fiver Children’s Foundation and is named after one of Richard Adams’ “Watership Downs” characters, the small rabbit Fiver, who wanted to create a better future for his community.
With that goal in mind, retired Wall Street investment banker Tom Tucker founded the program in 1998 to create a positive and nurturing environment for New York City kids from low-income families. What started as a summer camp evolved into a mentoring and counseling program, which accompanies kids from ages 8 or 9 through high school graduation.
Jean-Pierre and his brother benefited greatly from the program, and Jean-Pierre wanted the kids he works with to have the same experience, opening them up to possibilities they didn’t think were possible.
“I saw the impact [Camp Fiver] had in my life,” Jean-Pierre said. “I went to SUNY Cortland, one of the schools we visited when I was at Camp Fiver on a college trip. The kids that I work with, they remind me of myself.”
Jean-Pierre got the ball rolling with the help of his brother, who works at Google and serves on Camp Fiver’s board of directors.
For most kids, it was their first time at an overnight camp and away from their usual surroundings.
Jean-Pierre said some parents would have never sent their kids to camp without their NYPD mentors, who collaborated with Fiver staff to make the trip a memorable one for the youngsters.
“Since we deal with the kids on an everyday basis, they trusted us,” Jean-Pierre said.
The days were action-packed and introduced the players to activities they would not normally do. Without access to cell phones or social media, the kids made new memories by participating in activities like environmental education, kayaking, fishing, catching crawfish, swimming, hiking, bonfires, and cloth weaving.
“It really brought the best out of all the kids,” Jean-Pierre said, pointing out that the kids most likely would have never tried weaving, creating pillows and scarves.
Far Rockaway player Reynold had never been to sleepaway camp before. He liked the environmental education program because he enjoyed being in nature and would likely return to the camp.
“We got to go inside the creek, and we got to catch crawfish. It was fun,” Reynold said.
12-year-old Cody Martinez from East Harlem had also never been to sleepaway before. He said he wasn’t nervous before he left, but his mom was.
“My mom, she was like, it was like the first time that I’m actually gonna be away like very far away from her,” Martinez said. “So she was like scared.”
Like most of the kids, he enjoyed playing Gaga Ball, a fast-paced sport played in an octagonal pit.
“That was a very interesting game,” Martinez said. And while he already had a bond with his mates and cops, that bond had tightened.
“I trust them more,” Martinez said.
13-year-old Leo Montgomery from Far Rockaway loved the lake and thought the whole experience was fun. He said his most rewarding experience about the camp was catching a crawfish.
Harlem Giants player 13-year-old Russell Francis admitted that he was a little homesick but that his friends made the experience more fun. He had expected that camp would be boring or he had to do activities he didn’t like.
“But honestly, it was fun,” Francis declared, saying he would probably return next year.
The kids thought the cops did a great job as counselors, making the experience fun.
“They respected us. They always put us in place and always helped us when we needed it,” Martinez said.
NYPD Lt. Lenora Moody started the Far Rockaway Giants Youth Mentoring Program (former Far Rockaway Colts) in 2018 as part of the “Neighborhood Coordination School Initiative” (NCSI) in Far Rockaway, an NYPD mentorship program for at-risk youth in collaboration with the Department of Education. The program aims to break the cycle of violence with tutoring, mentoring, and flag football training while improving the relationship between the NYPD and the community. In 2022, Moody brought the project, which has a high success rate, to Harlem.
Like P.O. Jean-Pierre, Lt. Moody believes in exposing the kids to more opportunities. Moody explained team building was a critical aspect of the camp, allowing players from Harlem and Rockaway to get to know each other better.
“A lot of time, violence indicators are people going from one jurisdiction to another, or one community to another, and that’s how some violence is created,” Moody said.
Moody explained that from a police perspective, territorial behavior can drive violence among young people.
“But now you have people that are growing up in Harlem that say, ‘I know about Far Rockaway, they are good people, I know somebody, he is on my team,’ or somebody in Far Rockaway is saying, ‘I know people in Harlem. They are good, they are my team,'” Moody said. “Because we fall under one band, the Giants.”
Moody expressed her gratitude to P.O. Jean-Pierre and his brother and praised the Camp Fiver staff for their commitment to the kids even though the regular camp season was over.
Lt. Moody said that some of the kids had been apprehensive about going to camp but loved it once they were there.
“Once they were free to be themselves, that was it,” Moody said. “It’s something that you don’t ordinarily do.”
Some parents even asked Moody how to sign their kids up for the Fiver program.
“If it’s something that’s for free for city kids, they want their kids to be a part of it,” Moody said. “That’s how much they loved [Camp Fiver].
Christie Ko, executive director of the Fiver Children’s Foundation, said it was a unique experience for the foundation to bring the magic of Fiver to a new group of students.
“We have a lot of admiration for the efforts that Lt. Moody and the officers are making to build a stronger relationship between the community and the police,” Ko said. “We’re happy to be a part of it.”