BOSTON - Getting by with a little help from our friends is more than just a classic Beatles song in Worcester these days.
A group of kids is making new friends with local police officers in a new mentoring program called Bigs in Blue.
Nathan Dale, a second-grader, has a lot of fun rock climbing at Central Rock and his biggest cheerleader is Officer Daniel Heavey. The two have been paired together since last fall.
“Every time I hang out with Nate, no matter what kind of day I am having, if I am having a bad day or week, I know he’s going to be waiting for me with a smile, ready to hang out and play,” said Heavey.
Nathan agrees. "It’s great."
"The goal is to match police officers with youth in their community," said Christina Fleury, of Big Brothers Big Sisters. "The goal is to strengthen the community by making this match, and also in our particular program, to provide some violence reduction and some risk reduction strategies," she said.
For the first time, 10 Worcester police officers are mentoring a young person in this program.
Officer Mike Prizio has been paired with Messiah Jones, a second-grader. They have developed a very easygoing rapport and have enjoyed everything from bowling to attending a hockey game together.
Messiah said he appreciates his time with Prizio because "At home, I am lonely. I don’t like being alone.”
The program was launched nationally in the summer of 2017 as many communities wrestled with trust issues between law enforcement and residents.
Lt. Sean Murtha says Bigs in Blue reinforces the department's philosophy. "We can't do our jobs without the support of the community because we're not everywhere at once. We need people to talk to us."
"We need to communicate with the community, so maintaining a positive relationship is very important for us to do our jobs,” Murtha said.
Prizio grew up in the same neighborhood where Messiah now lives. He believes this program can help improve relations over the long term. “I think that when he’s older, if he has a relationship with us now, it could be a lot different when he’s an adult. He knows he can trust the police, and not necessarily view us as the enemy.”
The Worcester Police Department hopes to recruit another 10 officers this spring, and then more in the fall.
Although the initial obligation is for one year, the relationships usually continue on long after that.
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