While the community of Laurel was celebrating its annual Strawberry Festival, another “community-uniting” event was being hosted at Janosik Park. The creek banks along Janosik Park had youth with fishing poles, the park grounds had a variety of public service booths set up and young people and adults played corn hole as the Teen Challenge Praise Band performed. Many people were wearing the special “PFL (Pray for Laurel)” t-shirts that were being offered to promote the partnership between the Laurel Police Department and area churches.
The newly formed Laurel Police Department Ministry Council sponsored the “Laurel Community Youth Gathering” as part of the council’s vision for a united Laurel community.
Last summer, Laurel Police Chief Dan Wright, who is a vocal proponent of community policing, reached out to the faith-based groups in an effort to develop a public service resource. Laurel, like communities throughout Delaware, has remained in the media spotlight regarding incidents of illicit drug activities, including those involving opiates like heroin and fentanyl, which have reached crisis levels. This opioid crisis has left community leaders and law enforcement agencies struggling to find ways to address the devastation being left in its wake.
In an effort to take a proactive stance on the opiate crisis in the Laurel community, Wright established the Ministry Council. Since its inception, the council has been instrumental in bringing “the power of prayer” to Laurel in public arenas, including an event, “Attacking Addiction Through Christ,” which was held in Market Square Park during Addiction Awareness Month.
Wright said at the time the Ministry Council was formed he saw no better way to help unite the community than by reaching out to the faith-based community.
“As the Chief of Police, I cannot think of a better way to bring the community together for the betterment of the Town of Laurel and the surrounding areas, than by bringing all of the houses of worship together to unite for a common cause,” he said. “The more we communicate the better we will be.”
He said the communication also helps to bridge gaps that may exist between the police department and the community as it pertains to drug investigations.
Wright said Saturday’s youth event in Janosik Park is a good example of how important it is to develop venues for enhancing communication throughout the community.
“We know the Strawberry Festival is happening downtown, so we hope having this event in Janosik Park will enable visitors to also make their way out here and get connected to the community at-large. This is a youth event, but it’s all about bringing everybody together, all ages and all areas of the areas of the town coming together as one. When we come together as a group, we begin to work together as a group. That is important for a community like Laurel,” he said.
The event also featured an address by motivational speaker, Jarrod Barnes, former Ohio State University football player. According to information from the Ohio State University website, Barnes is the only football player, and one of only a few Ohio State athletes in any sport, to play while enrolled in a PhD program.
“After earning a walk-on spot with the Buckeyes, [Barnes] played while juggling a packed course load in his Masters of Science in Sport Management program at the College of Education and Human Ecology. He graduated in one year with a 3.67 GPA, just as he was accepted into the department’s PhD program,” according to Ohio State University.
Chief Wright said the Youth Gathering at Janosik Park is an example of bringing people together benefits the entire community. “I can’t stress enough how important it is for everyone to come together and get to know one another. We all live here and we never know when someone may need something. It is so important to be that person who extends their hand, or engages someone in small talk, that means a lot to people. It doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but we want to see it happen as much as possible here in Laurel.”