If the idea behind the First Responder Camp happening this week in St. Paul is to get young people to overcome fear and explore careers that help save lives, consider Fareeda Oyesola proof that it's working.
The 16-year-old Johnson Senior High School student does not know how to swim. Yet, the part of the program she was most looking forward to was getting onto White Bear Lake with the Ramsey County sheriff's water rescue team.
"It will be fun. I'm not scared of it," she said of being out in a boat. "But ... I just can't swim. So, maybe that part is a little terrifying."
Organized by Steve Hurvitz, the force behind the Learning Jet science, technology, engineering and math education program based at the St. Paul Downtown Airport, the camp gives 17 students an up-close introduction to water rescue and recovery, firefighting, air ambulance and rescue, crisis negotiations, first aid and basic CPR. Monday morning, students gathered in the Learning Jet's classroom in a converted hangar for team-building exercises and an introduction to what their week will include.
It's the camp's first year, Hurvitz said. It was ready to start in 2020 but was sidelined by COVID-19. The aim of the camp, he said, is similar to what the Learning Jet tries to accomplish all year long: whet young people's appetites in possible careers. In fact, several of the first responder careers being explored this week, such as air medic, have an aviation component, he said.
"All of it is totally free [for the students]. We're bringing in kids to see if it works," Hurvitz said, adding that the program is feeding and providing transportation to participants. "Like the Learning Jet, many of these things touch the aviation world. You're not necessarily going to become a pilot, but there's so much that's connected to the air."
This year's group of students comes from Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) programs at Johnson and Como Park Senior High School as well as the JK Movement youth program in St. Paul.
Other agencies and organizations partnering to put on the First Responder Camp include Metropolitan Airports Commission officials, St. Paul and Roseville police, the State Patrol and Life Link out of North Memorial Health. Joining forces to work with students makes sense, said Roy Magnuson, a longtime teacher and coach for St. Paul Public Schools who now works as public information officer in the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.
"Any chance we can connect with youth, we think we're doing part of our public mission," Magnuson said. "Any time we can add value, we try to."
Carmen Moreno, community resource officer for the Sheriff's Office, said it would be terrific if the camp sparks greater interest — even if in just a few of the students.
"That's the hope," she said.
It's not just about law enforcement, Moreno said. She told students that her office relies on dozens of community volunteers to help control traffic and to assist at crime or accident scenes. Volunteer officers even help deputies in water rescue and recovery operations, she said. During a recent vigil for a young family involved in a suspected murder-suicide case, community service volunteers helped with parking, she said.
Oyesola had been looking at some other summer enrichment opportunities with friends. But the camp at the airport looked too interesting to pass up, she said.
"I'm interested in knowing more about first responders and everything they do. And hopefully get some more career opportunities," Oyesola said.
Even if going out on the water makes her a little nervous.