The Student Ambassadors of the McDonell Area Catholic Schools are trying to enlist the community’s help in turning the entire city blue this May.
But it has nothing to do with the school’s royal blue and white colors.
The ambassadors, a community-oriented service group, partnered with Chippewa Falls High School’s Apollo service fraternity, the Chippewa Falls and Lake Hallie police departments and the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office to “Shine Blue for the Badge” in support of local law enforcement during Police Appreciation Week, May 14-20.
“We want the whole town to be lit up blue so the police officers can see we appreciate what they’re doing,” McDonell junior Megan Baier said. “They’re out there working late nights to protect us and help out the community.”
Baier said she, like many of her classmates, didn’t realize all the officers do to protect and serve their community. At a lunch with community members the ambassadors held earlier this year, she heard stories from the officers she wasn’t expecting.
“One of the kids in our group lost his dog, and the officer helped him find it,” Baier said. “It’s just simple things like that. I don’t think people realize enough how they impact us.”
Abby Opsal, a junior and member of the ambassadors, sure didn’t. She remembers thinking police were just people “sitting on the side of the highway making sure people don’t go 10 (mph) over.”
Now, working with them on “Shine Blue for the Badge,” she realizes how much more they do.
“Having more of a personal connection with them through this project, it has made me see how much they really are risking to go out there every day,” Opsal said. “They are just people, too. They don’t know if they’re coming home from work every day, though, that’s the difference.”
Chippewa Falls Police Chief Matthew Kelm said just the idea they had to help local law enforcement was rewarding for his department.
“It means everything,” Kelm said. “For them to choose us as something they want to support, show the officers they care about them, that’s why we got into this profession.”
The ambassadors have been working since the fall with their coordinator, Mary Jacobson, to create a plan to sell blue light bulbs at various locations in the area.
They are working with the police departments as well as local businesses and organizations to put together promotions, newsletters, packaging, finding the bulbs themselves and more to bring this idea to life.
It has required a lot of work on the students from both schools, but Jacobson said the community has really pulled together to support them, which was huge for the students to see.
“We know we have a very supportive community that cooperates well together and is willing to roll up sleeves and get things done,” Jacobson said. “But students don’t always get to witness that, and I think it’s been kind of a motivator for them.”
Baier agreed. She remembers feeling overwhelmed at times when work first began on the project. But after getting local businesses to help them promote the project, the law enforcement’s support and enthusiasm and seeing everything come together, she’s less nervous.
“It’s been a long process and at the beginning we were a little bit worried,” Baier sad. “But with all of the support we’re getting, we’re pretty excited to see how it’s going to turn out.”
Starting with Springfest at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds on Friday, April 28-Sunday, April 30, they will be selling the blue light bulbs for $6 each, with instructions on how and when to light it. After that, they will be selling at various locations throughout the community until Saturday, May 13.
The shifts include several full days and many evenings, including some during school hours. Jacobson knows the kids are busy, so they will also be asking volunteers to help fill 2-3 hour shift slots.
Kelm said officers will try to have a presence at the locations as well, or maybe have a vehicle parked if they can’t be there themselves.
“We want this to be successful, not just to support law enforcement, but these kids put a lot of effort into this, and we want them to have a good experience,” he said.
The students set a goal to sell 5,000 light bulbs so the community can really turn blue for Police Appreciation Week. But they have a financial goal as well.
“The focus is not so much to raise money, it’s really to show support for law enforcement,” Jacobson said. “But we also want to support the Jason Zunker Memorial Endowment Fund because then our work continues to help other projects.”
The Jason Zunker Memorial Endowment Fund, in honor of Chippewa Falls police officer Zunker who died while on duty in 2008, is through the Community Foundation of Chippewa County.
As the details come together and the project starts turning into reality, Baier and Opsal are more excited to see the end result. Opsal even has a goal for next year already.
“If this could become an annual thing where we raise our goal to 10,000 light bulbs next year, that would be really rewarding,” Opsal said.
Their first reward will come the week of May 14-20, when the city of Chippewa Falls “shines blue” and they see their hard work pay off.