School was in session, but in a certain sense, the adults were the pupils.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Commissioner of Police Patrick Ryder presided over a “Holiday Heroes” event at Park Avenue Elementary School in Westbury last month. They distributed $100 gift cards to 50 children in need from the Westbury School District. Under the school’s entrance canopy, 10 children were chosen to receive the envelopes from Curran.
The event was sponsored by the Nassau County Police Foundation and was held in lieu of an annual shopping spree sponsored by the foundation at the Westbury Target. The pandemic forced a change of plans.
Ryder related how when they took the kids shopping last year they said things such as, “I want to buy something for my mom and dad, or my brother and my sister.”
He observed, “The generosity of the children teaches us. And if we can learn from the children and learn more from what our kids do, we’ll do better in society.”
Ryder added, “This is about the kids. If we can learn from them, we’d be better off ourselves. We’re building that trust.”
As a special treat that day, students got to interact with a handful of cops dressed as superheroes. Two (Spiderman and Captain America) drove up in a motorcycle. Batman appeared on the top of a SWAT vehicle. They joined the county executive and the commissioner in greeting students who stood at open classroom windows in the wing adjacent to the entrance.
Curran began by praising the “police officers who work so hard to keep us safe every day. Those guys over there (pointing to the costumed figures) are superheroes every single day. And I want you to know that in Nassau County we love our children.”
Ryder praised his costumed officers who have been entertaining students for years.
“The superheroes—they step up, they do it on their own time, buy their own costumes. They lay out their own money and they love doing it,” the commissioner told reporters. “They run around, high-fiving kids and act out like they really are Spider Man or Batman. And that motorcycle that they came in, that’s theirs, they bought it on their own.”
“What does it mean in terms of community relations?” Ryder was asked.
“This has been a year of unrest. And a year of COVID. This has been a year of reforms. And we had a storm in the middle of this year,” he replied. “This is about us building trust with our community. This is about us and the kids understanding that we’re on their side. That we’re the good guys. These kids grow up, building trust with us, we’ll have better relationships. We respect them and they respect us and that works out.”
He added, “We make sure every kid is going to get something. Those  kids were chosen because of their need. They got that gift card to go shopping. This is a great feeling. This is what it’s all about.”
Park Avenue School Principal Robert Chambers told Anton Media Group that many of the children came from challenging backgrounds and family situations. He was awed by their attitudes and resiliency, stating, “Some of them are stronger than me.”
The event, he said, “Makes my day. I feel like I can go home now. I feel so accomplished with this.”
Alexandra Nigolian, executive director of the Nassau County Police Foundation, said the organization is active in underserved school districts such as Roosevelt and Uniondale. Westbury has been on the receiving end of its generosity.
“We always historically did a big event in those communities, with a toy parade every year,” she said. “But because of the pandemic, we took the toys to the school and gave them to a few children and left the school in charge of handing the rest out. So we’re just modifying all the things we would normally do.”
She credited foundation board member Mario Doyle for financing the event,
“We do anything that supports the police department,” she said. “Fortunately, our department does a lot of great community programs and we’re involved in those.”
While most of the students went back inside, some stayed behind to watch Spiderman and Captain America drive past on their motorcycle as they left. Batman waved from the turret of the SWAT vehicle.
“That’s cool,” one of the students exclaimed, summing up the exciting morning.