With all that’s facing law enforcement these days, it’s sometimes hard to think of something worth smiling about. If you were to ask anyone in the Waldo County Sheriff’s Department about Camp POSTCARD, however, you’d get a broad grin in return. Just thinking about that one week each summer puts a sentimental smile on the face of even the most hardened law enforcement officer.

Camp POSTCARD (Police Officers Striving To Create And Reinforce Dreams) is about to celebrate its 25th birthday, and we’re all hoping it goes for at least 25 more. Run by the Volunteers of America Northern New England, in partnership with the Maine Sheriffs' Association and the Maine D.A.R.E. Officers Association, Camp POSTCARD serves roughly 165 fifth- and sixth-grade boys and girls from across Maine for a week of summer fun, learning, and growing. And did I mention it’s free?

Indeed, because of Camp POSTCARD, many kids who otherwise would not be able to go to summer camp are able to have the camp experience. More than 300 kids apply each year, and each year we try to accommodate a few more than the previous year. Because camp is free to all the kids, there’s a lot of fundraising involved, and the Maine Sheriffs' Association is proud to be one of Camp POSTCARD’s supporters.

And did I mention that all the counselors are law enforcement and first responders? We have sheriffs, deputies, police officers, firefighters, corrections officers, game wardens, EMTs and nurses. They all take a week of their vacation and volunteer to teach the kids how to swim, fish, paddle a canoe, climb a rock wall, perform first aid, even how to make a healthy snack. They also try to help the kids learn to make good choices in life that will help them become more confident and more aware of what it means to be a good and caring friend to others.

I’ve been involved with Camp POSTCARD going back to 2000 and still, every year, I’m inspired all over again when I see the smiles on the faces of these kids and the pure joy they express for the simple gift of a week of fun with no other cares or concerns.

The children at Camp POSTCARD are from a range of backgrounds. Some kids are having difficulty in school. Some may have just lost a parent or a sibling. Some need a little extra one-on-one time with adult role models. Some are being rewarded for an achievement. Others are there because there will be no other opportunity for them to attend summer camp.

What they all have in common is they are kids and it’s encouraging to watch them make friends, learn to sort out differences, and embrace each other’s struggles and successes.

What we, as law enforcement and first responders, get in return is the chance to make a difference, and to be seen as people kids can trust and can turn to if they’re ever in need. Spending a week with the campers with everyone in T-shirts and shorts lets them see us as people first, and law enforcement second.

It’s important for them all to understand that there’s a human being inside the uniform. And it’s important for us to remember why we’re in these uniforms: to help.

When I think about the number of children — thousands — who have been helped by Camp POSTCARD over the last 25 years, well, I start smiling like a kid at summer camp.

Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton has been the head of the department since 2014 and prior to that served as chief deputy. He also has been chief of Belfast Police Department and a Maine state trooper.