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Camp Hero continues to grow

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SWAT: Keagan Hutchinson looks into the back of a Fort Wayne SWAT vehicle at Crestview Middle School. For Hutchinson, this was his favorite part of camp so far.
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CAMP HERO: Children line up at Crestview Middle School.

by Ethan Clewell - eclewell@chronicle-tribune.com

When Camp HERO (honor, excellence, respect and opportunity) started, Sheriff Chris Newton expected no more than 30 children to show up in the first year.

Now, 242 children attended this year’s camp.

The last 42 came in after the camp extended its capacity. Newton says that if they would have kept the doors open, there would be 300 children in the program.

“We had to hold off on the number of kids because of staffing,” Newton said, “I mean we still have jobs to do. We still have to go to court or get called in.”

Camp HERO is a public safety camp. Its goal is to help children handle dangerous situations, build rapport with the children of the community and give them something fun to do in the middle of the summer.

“I can walk into anywhere in the community and these kids say, ‘Hey, Mr. Newton, I had fun at camp,’” Newton said. “They may not recognize us in uniform, but they recognize us out of uniform. That’s big for us.”

Newton believes that this is the largest public safety camp he has seen in the country.

This year, the camp brought in 10 different agencies including the, a SWAT team from Allen County, the Huntington Police Department and the Indiana State Police.

This week, campers will get to see a military helicopter and birds of prey. They are also bringing back a drunk-goggles driving test. The test will have the children drive a golf cart, with drunk goggles on and maneuver through a series of cones. According to Newton, the last time they held this, nobody passed the course, and it was full of laughter.

Newton wants the program’s hands-on activities to continue as the core of camp, since it makes it fun while still remaining educational.

“Sitting through presentations can be very boring when you’re 8 years old,” Newton said.

Not only are there new activities, but the camp also has a new leader, Chad Hammel. Hammel has not made any major changes to the camp and doesn’t plan to do so for at least two years.

“I was really reluctant to make a lot of changes because this camp has ran very smooth,” Hammel said.

Hammel says the new role has came with some sleepless nights, but he’s happy to be working with the volunteer counselor. He says the toughest part is the logistics of all of it all, which comes a no surprise with several agencies.

Those agencies get to build rapport with each other.

“We only get to see each other on calls, but we’re busy.” Newton said. “Bringing all of theses agencies together and get to know each other – that camaraderie is huge for a small community.”