A stroll to warm hearts

Fitchburg kids' weekly walk came with gifts of hats, mittens

By Cliff Clark, cclark@sentinelandenterprise.com

UPDATED:   11/13/2015 08:03:18 AM EST

FITCHBURG -- When students at the McKay Arts Academy and Crocker Elementary prepared for their weekly "safe route" walk to school with police officers Thursday morning, many got a special surprise -- hats and mittens.

The hats and mittens were provided to the students by a joint effort of the Montachusett Opportunity Council, ReImagine North of Main and the Fitchburg Police Department, said Tom Skwierawski, ReImagine's project coordinator.

"We thought this would be great way to build great relationships between residents and local law enforcement," said Skwierawski while holding a large bag full of mittens and gloves that had been purchased by ReImagine, MOC and the police department to give to the students.

McKay first-grader Malik Karane, 7, could barely contain himself wearing his new of his new warm-weather gear.

"This is great," he said while pulling the knit hat down over his ears to keep them warm in the cold and drizzly weather.

Skwierawski said the hat and mitten project was a way to help connect people in the neighborhoods to the great organizations that are reaching out to help city residents.

Police Lt. Jeffrey Howe and nearly a dozen officers were also on hand to walk the students to school.

While the weekly "safe route" walks are normal routine for the department, Howe said the hat and mittens project began with a discussion with Skwierawski about how the department could provide some assistance to students.

The department, which is seeking new avenues to positively engage the community, used the project to send to let city residents know that policing is about more than just keeping the peace, said Howe, but also being a good neighbor.

"We're here to foster health, positive relationships with the police department and community engagement," said Howe, adding that Chief Ernest Martineau is constantly seeking new ways for the department to enhance its visibility throughout the city in a positive way.

Jenn Bragdon, the mother of Lucas and Ellaina, students at Crocker Elementary, said her children "can't wait for Thursday" when the department's officer walk them to school.

The hats and mittens made the dreary morning brighter, she said.

On hand to help hand out the new mittens and hats was state Rep. and Mayor-elect Stephen DiNatale.

"Everybody needs gloves today," he said.

And he had plenty of students who agreed and were happy for the unexpected gift.

Follow Cliff Clark on Twitter @cliffcclark.

Read more: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_29112191/stroll-warm-hearts#ixzz4B60dU48u