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BLOOMINGTON — The sound of nails being pounded into wood wasn't just bird feeders, water gauges, pencil holders, toy race cars and football goalposts being assembled.

It was the sound of community.

Forty community volunteers, including 13 police officers, helped 130 members of the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal and 13 children from the neighborhood with woodworking projects late Thursday afternoon. The event, which happened on makeshift tables outside the club, 1615 W. Illinois St., was the fourth annual Bloomington Police Department Projects with a Cop.

"I made a rain catcher and a bird feeder," Paige Prochnow-Streeter, 9, of Bloomington said as she held up what she had just made with Bloomington Assistant Police Chief Greg Scott.

"I needed help with both," she admitted. "The police officer helped me to hammer it (the rain gauge) and the lady helped me to put the bird feeder together. I finally got to do what I really wanted to do.

"It's a really good day because I got to be with the police officer and learn to how to use a hammer and screwdriver properly so I wouldn't get hurt and got to spend more time with my friends," Paige said.

"I will hang these in front of my house," she said of the rain gauge and bird feeder.

"It's a great opportunity to connect with the kids in an atmosphere that's not threatening," Scott said. "The kids get to see that we're people ... who can help them when they need help."

At another table, Bloomington Patrolman Manny Hernandez held a bird feeder frame as Ayani Richardson, 8, of Bloomington pounded nails into the frame.

"There you go," Hernandez said when Ayani had finished. She poured birdseed into the feeder and she and Hernandez exchanged a high-five.

"He helped me," Ayani said. "It's cool that this can help birds live. I'll put it in my front yard. I like this day."

"We're trying to build that bridge where we can communicate," Hernandez said. "For them to ask for help is the biggest thing."

At another table, Bloomington Chief Clay Wheeler helped Amayah Grayson, 6, Bloomington, put together a toy football goalpost.

"It's a football court," Amayah explained. "Because my brother likes football. I'll play with it with my sister and my brother. I'm happy."

"You did a great job," Wheeler told her.

"The officers are bonding with the kids and, by extension, with their families," Wheeler explained earlier. "That helps them to bond with the community.

"Short term, we want the kids to have fun," Wheeler said. "Long term, we want them to learn that the police are here to help them and that the police are people. Maybe something we do here today helps with a relationship 10 years from now.

"For the officers," Wheeler continued, "it helps them to understand who we're here to help."

In addition to Bloomington, Normal and Illinois State University police,  volunteers represented Home Depot, ISU, Project Oz, West Bloomington Revitalization Project and Mid Central Community Action's Jefferson Street Community House.

"The more role models that youth in the community have, the greater their voice," Boys & Girls Club CEO Tony Morstatter said. "If they have those connections, they are not afraid to ask for help, for guidance, for whatever.

"That builds community."

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Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech


Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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