Longtime Sheriff’s Office tradition makes room for the girls

A camper tries her hand at archery during the first ever Operation First Class Sheriff’s Camp for girls.
A camper tries her hand at archery during the first ever Operation First Class Sheriff’s Camp for girls.

When St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office representatives would speak with community parents to gauge interest in their annual Operation First Class Sheriff’s Camp, one of the most common questions was a simple one: will there be a camp for girls, too?

For the first time, that answer was yes. The single camp, traditionally for boys ages 12-16, saw a second First Class camp added for girls—it began last Friday (July 13) and ended Monday. It came on the heels of the boys camp, which began July 8 and wrapped up last Thursday (July 12). Both events took place Camp Salmon in Mississippi.

The camps were offered free of charge. The girls camp was overseen by Lt. Roanne Sampson and Sgt. Keysla Perrilloux of the Sheriff’s Office juvenile justice division.

The project was established as a way to promote trust and interaction between young people and police officers. Deputies who act as chaperones for the camp include juvenile detectives, deputies from patrol and corrections and school resource officers.

The camp was created through a partnership with local sheriffs of southeast Louisiana and the New Orleans Council Boy Scouts of America and blends outdoor experience, education and instructional skills, career education, building values, ethics and leadership development to combat the causes of violence and crime.

“They’re all from different areas people see on a daily basis,” said St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman Cpl. James Grimaldi. “They get to see these people and are more comfortable talking to them, and if there’s ever a situation where they have to approach an officer, they feel more comfortable because of that familiarity.”

The boys camp generally draws roughly 70 participants. Grimaldi said that the girls camp was capped at 30 participants given it is its first year. The girls camp was broken into a block schedule similar to the boys’ camp, which is chock full of activities including rock wall, swimming — with lessons available there for those in need — archery range, kickball and scouts team building exercises like nature walks, kayaking and paddle boarding.

One of the most important rules of each camp is that campers are only allowed to bring camping equipment and other essentials — specifically no cell phones, radios or other things of that nature.

Grimaldi said that’s usually an adjustment for this “plugged in” generation, but one that so many have been glad they’ve pushed through.

“They’re almost lost at first, and we’ve had some that have said, ‘okay, maybe I want to go home on that first day.’ We tell them to stick it out for at least a day, and if they still want to by the end of the next day, then alright,” Grimaldi said.

That option hasn’t been exercised much.

“By the end of day two they’re out there, having fun … they don’t even care. ‘We’re having a good time, leave us alone,’” Grimaldi said with a laugh. “It is an absolute blast to see these kids enjoying themselves.”

The registration and initial expenses to put the camp on are paid for by the Sheriff’s Office, but Grimaldi also tipped his cap to the many sponsors who have stepped forward to keep the event free of charge each year and make the camp a success.

“It goes a long way,” said Grimaldi. “We try and cook an extra meal for them each night, and the donations help with that and cover sports drinks, healthy snacks and some of the equipment.

“It’s so impressive the amount of people willing to step up and help and we’re grateful to all of them.”

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