November 2, 2013 10:07:46 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Rufus Beason eats breakfast almost every morning at Hardee's in North Columbus with a group of other retired men. One particular morning, Beason saw Columbus Police Department Patrol Officer Canyon Boykin come into the restaurant. He has known Boykin for years; the policeman is a longtime friend of Beason's grandson.
A small child inside the restaurant with her mother became upset when she saw Boykin in uniform. She cried and told her mother, "Don't let him get me."
Boykin told the little girl that he was her friend, that she didn't need to be scared. The child, still frightened, began to cry harder and hid behind her parent. Boykin exited the restaurant without another word. Beason watched him leave in silence.
But Boykin was not actually leaving. Instead, he opened the trunk of his patrol car then returned to the restaurant with a small, stuffed animal which he held out to the child. He smiled and said, "See, I am your friend."
By the time everyone had finished breakfast, the youngster was sitting on Boykin's knee and they were, indeed, friends.
When Beason told his story at a meeting of the Friendly City Chapter of the Good Sam Club, it sparked a response. Beason and his wife, Dorothy, have been part of the group of RV enthusiasts for about a decade. Moved by the account, the rest of the members decided to collect stuffed animals for law enforcement officers to keep in their cars. On Oct. 24, the club presented bags filled with about 200 stuffed toys to the Columbus Police Department. The supply should keep the department stocked for some time to come.
"I always try to have a few stuffed animals in the patrol car," said Boykin Wednesday, adding that a box of plush toys is kept available at the station, convenient for officers coming in and out of headquarters.
Our smallest citizens
Peace officers have to carry the gun, baton and other intimidating tools of their profession, but many of them have discovered that a soft, fluffy bear, long-necked giraffe or squeezable dinosaur can be of value on the job, too.
Police deal with plenty of stressful situations that too often involve an innocent child. They have found that a stuffed animal can help reassure a youngster traumatized by domestic violence, calm a little one who has been in a car accident, or give a child coping with loss something to cling to for comfort, even if for a moment.
Sgt. Terrie Songer of the Columbus Police Department vividly recalls a response to a domestic disturbance call and a 3-year-old who cried continually at the sight of police. One of the officers, of intimidating size, knelt to the child's level, spoke gently and patiently, and offered a stuffed bear. When the child finally held out a tentative hand for the toy, everyone knew the worst was past.
"I've seen it work," said Songer. "When you give somebody something, regardless of how small it is, they really appreciate it."
Young minds are impressionable, and some adults may not realize the longterm impact of what they say. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for officers to walk into a store or other public place in the course of their shift and overhear a parent say to a rambunctious child, "You'd better behave, or I'm gonna make him take you away," or "If you don't act right, she'll take you to jail."
"It really hurts in the long run," Boykin said. "It makes kids look at us as the bad guys, and we're not; we're the good guys who show up when someone needs help."
Doing something for the community is nothing new for The Friendly City Good Sam Club. Its 32 members share the joy of travel and camping in recreational vehicles, but they also award scholarships each year and have supported Camp Rising Sun, Palmer Home for Children, Helping Hands, Operation Christmas Child and the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society, among others. They're the good guys, too.
"We just want to give back in some way," said Dorothy Beason, who used to oversee the in-company United Way campaign when she worked at Holcim in Artesia. The Beasons, along with Good Sam members Shorty and Betty Glenn, spearheaded the club's stuffed toy collection. Pulling together for a positive purpose just makes the group's bond stronger, they said.
Good Sam is the world's largest organization of recreational vehicle owners. Nearly 1,500 grassroots chapters, like the Friendly City Chapter, get together for RV campouts, good times and community service. Hundreds of worthy causes benefit from the fundraising and volunteer efforts of its members.
"It's a great fellowship," said Weyerhaeuser retiree Rufus Beason. For him, collecting the stuffed toys -- like donning a red suit and white beard each December as he used to do -- is "all about making somebody happy, for at least a short period."
Columbus Police Chief Selvain McQueen expressed thanks to the group for the donation of stuffed toys.
"I'm very thankful; they'll certainly be used. When we go out and have interactions with kids, these can serve as a means for officers to make friends with the kids, and sometimes they'll be given out in extreme situations," said McQueen. "I just thank everyone who was involved and partnered to make those donations."
The rewards -- for those on patrol and those in the Good Sam chapter -- come in small packages, like the hug Officer Boykin eventually received from the little girl at the restaurant, the child who learned a bit more that day about who the good guys are.
Editor's note: The Dispatch thanks Carol Boone for some of the information included in this story.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.