With a pandemic increasing the threat of homelessness, police officers from Lewisville, Flower Mound and The Colony will team up with the nonprofit Journey to Dream on Dec. 12 to serve at-risk teens in need of support during the holidays at the eighth annual Shop with Cop event.
Around 70 students ages 13-19 from the Lewisville Independent School District will attend.
“This is our big holiday drive to make sure our teenagers are taken care of,” CEO of Journey to Dream and Kyle’s Place Nesa Grider said. “There are a lot of kids out there that are in need of some holiday help, and we just want to make sure that at least a small portion of them are taken care of.”
On any given day, there are almost 700 homeless teenagers in LISD, a problem that is worsened by COVID-19.
“We ask school counselors to nominate students,” Grider said. “We try to support them with gifts, food and different things they or their families might need. We’re focused on the teenagers because we feel like sometimes the teenagers are the ones that get left behind.”
This year, the teens will meet in Parker Square in Flower Mound, where JTD staff will lay out individually wrapped treats on socially distanced tables. Gifts include gloves, hats, scarves, hoodies, stuffed stockings and a $150 gift card.
JTD asks community members to reach out via email or its website and donate essential items or monetary contributions for the event.
“We are definitely behind,” Grider said. “We do not have all of our kids sponsored yet. Any donations from the community would be greatly appreciated, because that’s how we will support these kids.”
The event will also offer a free tour of the live nativity scene at the Lamb of God Lutheran church.
“We want them to have the feel of the holiday season,” Grider said. “While it’s not the big event that we normally have, I love that we are able to include that as part of (Shop with a Cop) this year.”
Police officers will conduct meet and greets with the students, many of whom have been in trouble with the law, seen law enforcement encounters with family members or been taken away from families by the police.
“Hopefully with the event, (the police) can show more of a partnership,” Andrea Sholin, Communities in Schools coordinator for Lewisville HS, said. “It’s an opportunity to tell the kids, ‘we are here for you, we’re protecting you as well, we haven’t forgotten about you.’”
According to Grider, the original goal of the law enforcement partnership was to familiarize students with police, but officers have increasingly kept in contact with the teens outside of the program.
“We wanted to bridge that gap and create a positive relationship so (the teens) can see the human side of what a police officer does,” Grider said. “It’s funny because when it starts, they’re very standoffish. By the end of the day, you can see the relationship is melded into a long term friendship, which is exactly what we hope for.”
In previous years, the event consisted of a police caravan, dancing and holiday shopping in store, courtesy of a Target-JTD partnership. However, coronavirus restrictions and greater need at the medical front lines forced the event’s organizers to get creative.
“COVID has definitely impacted us,” Grider said. “But we absolutely want to continue to serve this population. It's even more important because we know that the need is still there, and it's probably even greater this year than ever before.”
Journey to Dream was founded in 2004 to provide safe and secure facilities for homeless, at-risk, runaway and victimized young people. Since 2012, the Shop with Cop program has grown by about 20% annually, with the amount of police officers involved doubling each year, according to Grider.
“We are seeing a high increase in mental health issues, behavioral issues and a lot of stress with teenagers,” Grider said. “Any joy we can bring to these kids is paramount. This is extremely important.”