BRANFORD, Fla. — Brad Mincks just wants the kids to enjoy their week of camp.
Last week, the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches’ annual “Harmony in the Streets” camp allowed approximately 30 area youth to build connections and learn while having fun doing it at Branford Elementary School.
“That’s the main goal, from as far as I see it,” said Mincks, a SCSO deputy that also serves as the school resource officer at Branford High School. “Let them have fun but they’re learning at the same time.”
Mincks said daily at the camp, the camp counselors would wind down the day with a listening session that included asking the students what they enjoyed, what they didn’t enjoy and any feedback on how the camp could be improved.
“Some of the kids will often say, ‘I didn’t have a low today, I had a great day,’” he said. “That’s what we’re looking for. Come have a great day, learn some stuff along the way. A lot of kids, they’re having fun, they don’t realize what they’re learning as they’re having the fun.”
Mincks has been involved with local camp — the Youth Ranches offer the mobile camps across the state — for seven or eight years.
Justin Crawl, the site director for the BES camp, began helping with the camps in May. He said every week since, he has been somewhere in the state running one of the mobile camps.
“The purpose is to just build relationship with kids and let them know that they don’t have to be afraid of deputies or sheriffs because we always have sheriffs on site,” Crawl said as Deputy Jacob Williamson also spent the week at the camp alongside Mincks. “We just want to build that connection with them because the main thing on how our camp got started, there was a child that ran away from a deputy so they wanted to start this thing for kids just to let them know they don’t have to be afraid or anything like that. They can be friendly with them and just build that connection.
“We just want to build that connection with the kids we have here.”
Mincks has enjoyed that aspect of the camp, too.
“It gives you a week to get down on their level and enjoy it with them,” he said. “And I try, as much as I can, to get involved with them in their activities and just, a lot of times when they see a guy in a a uniform they automatically just think the worst.
“If you can show them on a different level, we’re different on many different levels, as they get older, they remember that.”
Among the various activities the students enjoyed during the week included a water day — although it was cut short by inclement weather — on Thursday as well as demos from various agencies every day. On Monday, the SWAT commander and staff visited camp, while the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission presented on boat safety and river safety Tuesday. On Wednesday, the campers received a visit from the Suwannee Correctional Institution K-9 team and Suwannee Fire Rescue visited Thursday, bringing with them a fire extinguisher simulator.
Mincks said the simulator allowed the students to use an extinguisher to put out a fire on a screen while the simulator timed how long it took. The camp also included team-building exercises as well as arts and crafts.
“They do a lot of different things,” he said. “A lot of different activities for the kids to enjoy.”