Poke your head around the back of the Morton Police Department and you’ll find an auxiliary courtroom-turned-youth center, where every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Morton Elementary School Reading Coordinator Dana Nevin leads a “book club for kids” of up to ten second, third and fourth graders.
The event dubbed “Morton’s Rockin’ Readers” is the newest after-school youth engagement event put on by the Police Department. Previous activities hosted by the police department include the “Our Constitution Rocks” program, a rocket-building event, movie screenings and field trips.
The Rockin’ Readers serves a few purposes. First and foremost, it gives kids a safe place to be after school, said Morton Police Chief Roger Morningstar.
“A lot of our nationwide averages say the most dangerous time for kids is 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. — after school and before mom and dad get home from work,” said Morningstar over the phone, who is also Nevin’s father. “We’re doing the best we can to fill that gap and to create positive and enriching after-school programs.”
Some kids attend to sharpen their reading skills. That is where Nevin’s expertise, provided to her by the Washington Reading Corps, an AmeriCorps program, comes into play.
Her interactive approach keeps the kids moving and processing what they read. They begin by chatting about where they left off in the book from their last meeting, like any other book club, and then they get into the book: Magic Tree House Shadow of the Shark.
They will pause for snacks after 30 to 40 minutes of reading, perhaps fit in another game before picking up the book again.
“It’s been so fulfilling, my kids see me at school and say ‘I can’t wait for Wednesday!’” said Nevin. “So it’s reassurance that this is what I’m here for, that this is what I’m meant to do, and they love it.”
Nevin says while some kids come to hone their reading skills and others come for a safe place, there is no right or wrong reason for kids to attend the book club, all are welcome.
The location of Nevin’s youth book club — the police department — is also important because Morningstar, is the one who, according to auxiliary officers Jeanette Chamberlain and Donald Olsen, spearheaded the charity efforts to remodel the aging courtroom into a youth center in 2018 right after the Morton Teen Center closed its doors.
From floor to ceiling the youth center is outfitted with donated furniture and games from around the community or purchased with money from police department fundraisers.
“He’s the life blood of this operation,” Chamberlain said about the police department’s youth engagement activities.
Morningstar was flattered by his officers’ kind words but said, in actuality, it takes a village to make it happen. He didn’t buy the Street Fighter II and Rampage arcade machines, or the nearly two dozen board games, or the TV, or any of the furniture. It was the Morton community that made it happen
In turn, the location provides a unique way for the Morton police officers and the kids to familiarize themselves with each other.
“We wanted to combine the officers with the reading so that kids know that we’re okay, we’re here to help them,” Said Nevin, who also serves as an auxiliary officer. “We did it here so that way officers can come in and say hi and kids have a safe place to be at.”
The father-daughter combination has proven to be essential for the event. Morningstar provided the space and the resources while Nevin offers the expertise in tutoring young readers — Two older generations of Morton dwellers are giving to the next.