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Palm Coast Tuesday, May 5, 2020 8 months ago

Rymfire Elementary's Hero Squad helps kids feel comfortable around first responders

Three members of award-winning CmPS group have parents who are law enforcement officers.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

Anna Gimbel’s dad, Fred Gimbel, is a K-9 officer with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. Holmes, the FCSO’s hound dog, is her “pet.” But not every child is so comfortable around law enforcement.

“The kids loosened up. I’ll always remember how I realized how the kids have changed.”


“My dad used to be my soccer coach, and when he was wearing his uniform, this girl on our team would back away slowly,” Anna said. “She was scared something was going to happen.”

Anna and her friends, the Hero Squad, a Community Problem Solves group at Rymfire Elementary School, worked all year to help other children feel more comfortable around first responders. They were rewarded with first place honors in the state’s Future Problem Solvers competition in April.

The group, along with their coach, teacher Tim Ruddy, assembled for a Zoom meeting on May 1 to discuss their project, as well as their plans to continue preparations for the next step in FPS, which is the International Competition, to be held virtually in June.


Seven events

Gobble Gobble Day was the Hero Squad's event in November.

Throughout the school year, the group came up with seven events to which they invited first responders from the FCSO, Flagler County Fire Rescue, the Palm Coast Fire Department and other agencies in other counties to interact with younger students at Rymfire.

Abigail Blumengarten recalled Candy Cane Day, when each Hero Squad student was paired with a first responder, carrying a Christmas stocking full of candy canes. At first, some of the kids were scared of the adults in uniform.

“They were like, ‘What are they doing here?’” Abigail recalled. “Once we told them they were going to be handing out candy canes, they weren’t as scared.”

Another event was Classroom Visiting Day. “We brought in first responders to tell students about what they do, who they are, how they help people,” Abigail said.

Aniyah Graham recalled seeing a second grader during Candy Cane Day, standing in the corner, uncomfortable to be around a deputy. Later in the school year, that same second grader was playing a game, stacking cups, with a first responder.

First responders played games to help children feel more comfortable.

“The kids were comfortable and hanging and loosened up a little,” Aniyah said. “I’ll always remember how I realized how the kids have changed.”


Two more parent-heroes

In addition to Anna, two other students have fathers who are first responders. Alyssa Fernandez’s father, Thomas Bentley, is a Holly Hill police officer, and Kaylee Cavas’ father, Troy Cavas, is a K-9 officer with the FCSO.

“Sometimes when we’re in public, kids will give him weird stares or back away because they’re afraid,” Kaylee said.

Alyssa said the events helped the kids. “The first responders bonded with them and played games with them and made jokes,” she said.

Sheriff Rick Staly, who attended a Game Night event with the Rymfire students, praised the Hero Squad for taking up such an important cause.

"I know from my own daughter's growing-up experience — it's tough to be a son or a daughter of law enforcement," he said. "Any time that we can involve the youth interacting with law enforcement and first responders, it's a good thing."


Hard work pays off

The Hero Squad finished first in the state in its category for Community Problem Solvers. Next step: International Competition.

Xavior Rodriguez, Josiah Baccus, Cameron Kalasnik, Timothy Kulev and Persia Hughes also made good memories as members of Hero Squad.

The students researched, made phone calls, obtained supplies and set up the events all by themselves, according to Ruddy.

“It was amazing to see them work,” he said.

One disappointment, in addition to the award ceremonies being online only, was the fact that the final event had to be canceled: a lip sync battle between the first responders. 

"I was sad because I was looking forward to it," Persia said.

Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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