Barefoot Tours: The Denver Police Academy and The Tennyson Center!

Every day at Barefoot I seem to have a lightbulb moment where I think, “Wow, these ladies are my people.” (If you caught the Grey’s Anatomy reference, good for you.) In one of our meetings a couple weeks back, I had a lightbulb moment once again. I learned that the Barefoot team takes a tour of a local nonprofit every month. We do this because it allows us a great opportunity to learn more about local initiatives and what’s happening in the community. For the month of August, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to tour two nonprofits: the Denver Police Foundation and the Tennyson Center for Children.

The Denver Police Foundation funds crucial programs within our community to help provide public safety and support law enforcement. In order to have a first-hand perspective on the work the Foundation does, we decided to tour the Denver Police Academy where some of the funds raised are put towards. Walking in, I was admittedly quite anxious. Even as someone who has never had a brush with the law, as soon as I was standing in a lobby surrounded by police I found myself suddenly standing with perfect posture. Yes, Gabby… of course they are going to arrest you for poor posture (*face palm*). I collected myself a little, pulled my shoulders down to their normal state and remembered that police are just people like you and me. I know, novel concept.

As we walked through the main hallway the walls were completely covered in officer photos and headshots. To our left, were the different departments of the Academy and the force in general, and to our right were class photos of graduates throughout history. Fun fact: even once women were accepted into the Denver Police Department (DPD) they were expected to wear skirts. Skirts. Let that sink in for a moment. Can you imagine not only being a female police officer during the 1950s but also having to squat down, crawl, and run in a skirt? I don’t know about you, but that would be a definite no from me. Round of applause for our female police officers please. From there, we walked through some of the class trainings the Academy conducts and were introduced to this year’s graduating class. There goes my posture again… this time with the lovely added bonus of blushing beet red as well. So much for cool, calm and collected Gabby.

The next part of the tour was where we really hit the team building phase: The VirTra System. The system is a 300° force options training simulator where recruits learn the most difficult real-world situations, including ambushes, active shooters, and maintaining full situational awareness during extreme stress. Tyrone Campbell, our wonderful guide, then asked which two of us wanted to try it out. Needless to say, it was Cori and Laura who stepped forward… Laura slightly more enthusiastic than Cori. They were both fitted with Taser belts… because yes, if you get shot in the simulator you get a Taser shock in real life. Neither of them truly believed Ty when he told them, until Laura actually got Tasered and then emotions in the room were, let’s just say heightened. P.S. for all those wondering, yes, Laura has a girly scream. In the VirTra System they were able to talk down a man with a gun and save a woman’s life, and were placed in a scenario similar to that of the Aurora shooting. All of us, watching and participating, have a whole new appreciation for what our Denver Police Officers do.

We finished our tour by going outside to see a Denver Police car that had been destroyed and wrapped around a pole while in pursuit. The officer inside the vehicle somehow survived to tell the tale, but it was nonetheless a sobering experience to see the car and know the risk our officers put themselves in every day. The Denver Police Foundation allows our Police Department to foster innovation and keep up with changing technologies, while also promoting excellence and wellness in the community. To learn more or to donate visit http://denverpolicefoundation.org/.

Later in the afternoon, we changed the tone from the Denver Police Academy completely and visited the Tennyson Center for Children. Founded in 1904 the Center has been an integral part of the community for 113 years and was the first certified residential treatment center for abused and neglected children in Colorado. The aim of the Tennyson Center is to help protect and heal children from abuse and neglect, as well as helping children with mental health and developmental issues.

Unsuspecting from the outside, the Center is a modern fortress with security measures at every doorway. For the safety and protection of the children that reside at Tennyson, every guest is guided and no child is ever left alone. We were only able to open one door once the other had closed, we were escorted at all times throughout the facility, and every exit/entrance was locked. As someone who grew up in a safe and caring environment my entire life, it was a well-needed confrontation that these children had most likely never felt the safety that Tennyson provides.

We were first greeted by CEO Ned Breslin, who walked us through the halls of the center explaining the uses of different classrooms and the type of education practiced at Tennyson. He highlighted that there are no more than three children to one teacher in their programs and that surprising to many, Tennyson mostly works with kids as Day Treatment. The Day Treatment offers two outlets, one provided by clinicians to provide both individual and family therapy, and the other a school-only program called Innovate Direct Educational Assistance for Learners (IDEAL) for students who don’t need therapy.

As we walked outside Ned pointed out the other integral part of the important work Tennyson does, their Residential Treatment Program. This program is specifically for children who will benefit from intensive therapy services and have most likely lived in multiple homes in the foster care system. Part of this program is the Special Services Unit (SSU) which is specifically designed for children and families in crisis. The SSU is solely focused on getting these children and families to a point where they can integrate into the other programs of Tennyson, and eventually back into the community. Ned shared with us that often times these children have sustained so much trauma in their lives that they will not speak or communicate, and in severe cases they have helped children who never learned how to speak at all. Making these children feel safe is the main priority during their time in SSU.

Walking through the hallways I noticed that all the children knew Ned. Not only did they know him, they were friends with him. They trusted him. One young boy shared something exciting he had done that day, another confided in him about the hard day he had yesterday. What moved me (and at one point, to tears) about the Tennyson Center was that the people who work there genuinely care about the wellbeing and future of the children that enter through the doors. They fight for them and want them to succeed, and that is the core of what these kids need the most. Sitting in Ned’s office was only further proof of that. The walls are covered by children’s paintings, each carrying their own story. “When a child leaves the center, they get to paint on the walls of my office. Whatever they want, they leave their story and they leave their mark,” Ned said. The idea has become so popular with the kids that almost all the wall space in his office is full of paintings, and Ned says they might have to take photos of all the works to frame them so they can paint over and let more children have the same experience.

The profound work that the Tennyson Center does on a daily basis is only possible because of the amazing people that work there coupled with donations and volunteers! If you are interested in finding out more about this great cause or how you can help, please visit https://tennysoncenter.org/.

– Gabrielle Richmond