On Saturday, Aug. 6, the state police specialized in spreading sunshine that did not depend on the whims of Mother Nature.
The Pennsylvania State Police Camp Cadet of Chester County debuted its Sunny Day Camp to rave reviews at Penn Township Park in West Grove. The free, daylong event, designed for children and adults with special needs, ran from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and featured a host of hands-on activities.
Some participants, who ranged in age from 4 to 56, delighted in putting on body armor while others preferred nuzzling a horse, watching a K-9 team sniff out illegal activity, climbing into a helicopter, or wielding a battering ram.
Capt. Maurice A. Tomlinson, commanding officer of Troop J in Lancaster, said that when Trooper Samantha Minnucci approached him with the idea, it didn’t languish. “It was approved in seconds,” he said, adding that everyone who heard about it offered enthusiasm and support.
Greg Cary, president of the Chester County Camp Cadet board, agreed. “It was all Samantha,” he said. “Not only did she come up with the idea, but she also implemented it.”
Watching the smiles on the faces of the campers and the care-givers proved that Minnucci produced a winning concept, Tomlinson said. “It’s great to see,” he added.
The day began with a strong law-enforcement presence: a flotilla of emergency vehicles, including local police and fire companies. Then the more than 75 campers, accompanied by friends and relatives, rotated through five stations: a state police K-9 unit, a Special Emergency Response Team (SERT), the Montgomery County Bomb Squad, a state police Mounted Unit, and a state police helicopter.
Twenty-year-old Christoff Abraham of Coatesville was particularly excited about by the SERT gear, which Cpl. Brian Atkinson helped him try out.
“This is right up his alley,” said his mother, Martha Cooper. She explained that her son has been involved in Coatesville’s ROTC program and volunteers once a week at the Coatesville V.A.
Bryce Rubin, 18, of Lincoln University, was drawn to the horse ridden by Cpl. Michael Funk. As Bryce petted the appreciative steed, his mother, Michele Rubin, deemed the event a huge success. She said her younger son had gone to Camp Cadet so Bryce was excited about the opportunity even before it happened.
“It’s been fabulous,” she said. “He’s asked questions – some awful and some wonderful – at every station. They’ve done a great job.”
Minnucci said she got the inspiration for the camp from her youngest brother, Gabriel. She explained that when she became camp director of Camp Cadet of Chester County in 2014, Gabriel served as her top assistant. Camp Cadet, a weeklong overnight program, started in 1971 as a way to enable boys and girls to experience a variety of law-enforcement activities, while promoting positive interaction with the professionals who serve their communities.
“Once camp was over, he [Gabriel] asked numerous questions about how it went and how he was so excited to one day be able to do Camp Cadet,” Minnucci said, describing her brother as someone who “lights up any room when he walks into it.”
Minnucci said she knew that both the age limit and her brother’s special needs precluded his participation in Camp Cadet, but she began to ponder other options. Her musings led to Sunny Day Camp, held in conjunction with the Special Olympics of Chester County.
In addition to the interactive law-enforcement activities, Sunny Day Camp featured a barbecue lunch, games, and a graduation ceremony with certificates. Then it was party time, complete with a deejay and water ice.
Sunny Day Camp was funded through donations from individuals and businesses, separate from the donations that go toward Camp Cadet. About 50 troopers and other law enforcement professionals served as counselors and donated their off-duty time, Minnucci said.
Chester County Deputy Sheriff Steve Vitale said he enjoyed watching the gleeful reactions of the campers as they inspected his vehicle. “It’s a good thing for everyone,” he said.
Vitale was joined by fellow deputies Ryan Barr and Mike Carlson and their respective K-9 partners, Murphy and Luke. Chester County Sheriff Carolyn "Bunny" Welsh, who was attending another community outreach event with other deputies, said she is proud to have so many employees committed to giving back.
Cary said he wasn’t surprised by the outpouring of support the event received. “It was the kind of idea that makes you wonder: Why didn’t I think of that?” he said, adding that it represented the first such initiative in the state police system.
It won’t be the last if Tomlinson gets his way. “My goal is that now that we have a template, we’re going to share that template with our troops across the state,” he said. “I’m just sorry that this took us so long. We were missing something and Trooper Minnucci filled that void.”
Asked for his reaction to Sunny Day Camp, Gabriel Minnucci proved that he remains one of his sister’s biggest fans.
“She did a good job,” he said. “I’m proud of her.”