SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. -- When Capt. Frank Messar created the Yonkers Police Department Annual Handicapped Children's Picnic in 1985, he did so to help special needs children understand that their local police officers are friendly, approachable and there to help them.
Almost 30 years later, despite the overcast and rainy conditions Thursday morning, May 15, special needs children from Yonkers public schools were bused to Kingsland Point Park in Sleepy Hollow for the picnic to learn about their local police as part of National Police Week.
The children took part in many activities, including touring police vehicles, trying on haz-mat suits, waving at passing police boats and watching a live police K-9 demonstration, followed by cuddling and petting off-duty dogs.
Yonkers, Mount Vernon and Sleepy Hollow police departments, including both active duty and retired officers, participated in the event.
Messar, now retired, still organizes the event, saying the benefit the event brings to not only the children, but also his fellow officers, are what keeps him coming back.
"As long as I'm physically able, I'll always come back," he said, "To see the kids who have never tasted a toasted marshmallow before, to see the smiles on their faces. Special ed kids have a place in all of our hearts, and it makes us feel good and it makes them feel good, so we want to keep it up."
Messar emphasized the importance of familiarizing special needs children with police officers and the good work they do in their communities.
"This is the unions' way of giving back to the community and the kids," he said. "The kids are what's most important. Special ed kids, in particular... this is the first time they get to see police officers out of uniform, the first time they can pet a police dog. We want to let them know we're their friends and neighbors."
Hilary McCormick of Yonkers, a special education teacher at Yonkers Montessori 31, has been involved in the picnic for 20 years.
"It's just such a great day," she said, "Some of our kids, because of their disabilities, don't get out to play and socialize as much as other kids. So they get to come out today and enjoy the scenery."
McCormick added that many special needs kids and their families do not have the means to pay for field trips.
Since the Yonkers Police Benevolent Association and other unions fund the event, the children can enjoy activities, scenery and food for free.