It was on the second morning of the 18th annual Leadership Challenge when parents allowed Blue Springs Police into their home to help their teenager get out of bed in order to participate in the day camp’s next session. Escorted out of the home in handcuffs, the juvenile got into the backseat of a squad car and was taken to First Bible ADP SportsPark, where this year’s camp is being held.
This is one of the many instances where Blue Springs Police Sgt. Colby Lalli aims to instill both accountability and commitment into the minds of more than 40 boot camp participants ranging from age 13 to 17. He, along with 14 other police officers and six medics and firefighters from Central Jackson County Fire Protection District, are conducting a week-long program set to radically transform the behaviors of kids who may have previously broken the law or been unruly at either home or school.
“This is probably the most intense week of their lives,” said Lalli about his youth participants at Leadership Challenge.
The Leadership Challenge follows a military model, said Lalli. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday this week, the teens begin each session by being subjected to an inspection and roll call, where they are checked if they are dressed appropriately, followed by intense physical training, such as sprints or multiple sets of push-ups and sit-ups. Throughout the day, the teens engage in marching drills and obstacle courses, like a tire flip or plank walk race, as well as a couple educational components.
“Our Think First presentations have a speaker with a brain or spinal cord injury who made a destructive decision, like not wearing a selt belt while drinking and driving,” Lalli said about the educational components of the day camp. “This will help them to make better decisions in the future.”
And not only do these “rangers” become disciplined and in-shape, but also help out the community.
“Today they will hauling brush and adding mulch for the (First Baptist Bible) church,” he said. “They don’t know what it means to serve their community. It’s not always about me, me, me.”
The boot camp began nearly 20 years ago, when Lalli said he carried out the vision of another officer’s idea.
“It addresses defiance at this high level.”
He added that many of the 14 officers involved are military veterans themselves and “want to change kids’ lives.” The CJC firefighters are on standby in case of a medical emergency. “Safety is paramount.”
The pinnacle of the Leadership Challenge, Lalli said, is the graduation ceremony at the end of the week. “This is their biggest accomplishment when they don’t usually complete anything.”
Lalli added there are very few repeat offenders once they complete the program. Some rangers are monitored for the next three to six months after the camp, and some officers make a phone call to their families to follow-up on their progress.
“We also receive countless letters from parents thanking us for the Leadership Challenge. It’s very rare to see a repeat offender. I’d say one out of 50 to 60 kids comes back.”
However, the camp isn’t free. The fee for a kid to be enrolled is $110, said Lalli. “This isn’t a babysitting service. It’s to instill teamwork, discipline and accountability.”