Earlier this week, we reported about a 16-year-old Boy Scout who took it upon himself to spruce up the fallen officer memorial at Thomas Pangborn Lodge 88 of the Fraternal Order of Police in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Starting work in September 2018, Caden Conrad added several flag poles to the area, made a wall from paving stones, and laid a concrete walkway. The completion of the project was instrumental in his achieving the rank of Eagle Scout.
Last week, we reported about a Girl Scout Troop in Tennessee that did a full-on makeover of the police department headquarters building in their town.
Girl Scout Troop 1785 in Nolensville labored for a year, painting every wall and getting donations from local businesses and individuals to install new flooring, desks, chairs, tables, a refrigerator, and a television. Their work was instrumental in allowing the girls to achieve their Silver Award—the highest award a Girl Scout Cadette can earn.
There are dozens of other stories in which kids in their teens show touching support for police officers.
Here's one that hasn't made any headlines—until now.
One Artist, One Cop
Last year, I briefly introduced you to Officer Mitch Brouillette, who works at Heritage High School in the San Francisco Bay Area. A couple of years ago, hundreds of students orchestrated a complex surprise of epic proportion for their beloved SRO known affectionately as "Officer Mitch." Check out the video—it is extraordinary.
In the past year, Mitch and I have become friends, talking at times via social media. The other day, I saw a picture he posted to Facebook of him and a teenage girl flanking a stunningly beautiful painting of a Thin Blue Line flag.
Mitch added the caption, "HHS AP Art Student @alannaviolet_ representing the Thin Blue Line at the Brentwood Art Festival. Gotta love that she used my badge number!"
I sent him a direct message asking if I could learn more about the painting, and perhaps even speak with the artist who created it—Alanna Rodriguez, a senior at HHS in Brentwood.
Mitch quickly responded and the three of us subsequently connected via phone.
"My relationship with Alanna started probably last year—I knew she was going through some stuff, and we kind of built a friendship," Mitch said.
Mitch recounted how he conducts a presentation for the incoming freshman called 'What's Your Story?' in which he shares his own story of growing up with an alcoholic father who eventually fled the home. He then encourages kids to tell their own tales, and Alanna shared the story about her sibling being suicidal and how she helped that individual during that difficult time.
"My brother is now transitioned from female to male, and he was going through a really tough time with that, and I was the first person he told," Alanna said. "He's doing great right now."
As Mitch and Alanna continued to develop a friendship, he would visit her during her advanced placement art class and marvel at her work—Mitch makes the rounds to all the classrooms on campus and visits with all the kids on a daily basis.
During one such visit, Mitch suggested she do a painting of a Thin Blue Line flag. She set to work in her chosen style—a fusion of abstract and realism—and her chosen technique known as acrylic pour.
"At first, I didn't really know what I was going to do with it, but I wanted to do it for him just because he's done so much for me and he's done so much for this school," Alanna said. "So I went home and did a couple different things, and then I finally figured out how I wanted to do it, and then I did the pour, and I gave it to him."
After several hours of work, she produced an extraordinary interpretation of the flag, adorned with Mitch's Badge number.
"I was just blown away," Mitch said. "When I saw the painting that she had done, I was just blown away by how talented these kids are."
Soon after he found a prominent spot in his house to display the painting, Alanna had a request—she wanted to submit it for inclusion in the local art festival.
"Now I have an empty space on my wall because I'm waiting to get it back," Mitch laughed.
"It was ironic that the night of the art show, we [the PD] were having a public event in the same location—at the city hall—and I didn't plan on seeing her there, nor did I plan on seeing the painting there. So there I was in my Class A uniform, and she was there, and the painting was on the wall, and it was just one of those things where it was like—I don't know—it was just humbling. Here was an 18-year-old senior in high school that took that initiative. I don't think she realized how special it was to me."
The relationship between Mitch and Alanna—as well as the relationships Mitch has with literally hundreds of other kids at the school—is the outcome of a few important traits that Mitch shares with countless thousands of officers across the country who have that special bond with kids.
First and foremost is a genuine love for young people. Like cops, kids can spot "fake" and "phony" from a mile away. When the interaction is real and based on a truly heartfelt care and concern for kids, barriers—among even the most jaded—come cascading down.
Further, there has to be a foundation of mutual respect. In order to gain the genuine respect of kids—especially teenagers—the officer must first give respect to the youth. They don't have the same life experiences as you, nor do they have knowledge of myriad things you know all too well, but they do have their own life experiences and knowledge to share with you.
As I've previously written, I believe strongly that formal youth programs—cadet, explorer, athletic league, summer internships, and others—can go a long way toward creating strong bonds between police and the community they serve.
So, too, can one-on-one relationships like the one between Alanna Rodriguez and Mitch Brouillette.
They've made friendship into an art form.