MAPLE PARK – Walking into the Maple Park Police Department on Saturday night felt like a journey to a kid’s birthday party.
There were youths shooting baskets at a mini-hoop. Others were playing a video game. Some were playing foosball or munching on hot dogs. Even more children were going in and out of the “movie room,” an area that actually resembles a mini-movie theater.
Coordinators Josh Salisbury and Kevin Brown were wearing whistles around their necks as they kept busy in their quest to maintain order, and their whistles got good use.
It’s a typical weekend scene at the department, located at 302 Willow St. in Maple Park. Friday and Saturday nights are drop-in nights for kids ages 7 and older. They are welcome from 6 to 9 p.m. in an effort to accomplish a couple of missions – to help youths have an enjoyable time at the police department and provide some weekend entertainment. The program is in its third year.
“Maple Park is a very small community, and there’s not much going on,” Salisbury said. “You would much rather they be in here.”
On Saturday, kids – mostly in pairs – were embracing the experience, journeying from area to area. Skylar Martin, an 8-year-old from Maple Park, was there along with her siblings. She was in the movie room, but it was more about chatting with friends, playing a few games or eating some popcorn. She said she’s been coming for months.
“They show a movie or two, you get free popcorn and you can mess around with your friends,” Skylar said. “I make a lot of friends here.”
Among others in her group at the party were twins Charlotte and Ben Martin, 11, Skylar’s siblings, and 10-year-old Dakota Huffnus. They would move from room to room with friends, sometimes playing hiding games or settling down to watch a few minutes of the cartoons playing on the screen.
Salisbury said Maple Park Police Chief Mike Acosta brought him the idea, and he and Brown were on board. Salibury works for the Montgomery Fire Department and the Kane County Sheriff’s Office. Both Salisbury and Brown are emergency medical technicians, and they said they enjoyed the task.
Despite the noise and the kids constantly on the move, neither lost his patience on Saturday. And though Salisbury must use a cane to get around – he lives with cerebral palsy – he said it’s not difficult for him and Brown to work as a team to keep track of the kids. And Salisbury said it’s definitely a two-person job.
Brown provided a tour, pointing out that he worked to paint the movie room in dark colors, with some light bulbs to provide illumination, giving it the feel of a theater. Movies are shown by a projector, with a screen that is more than 50 inches wide. In the hallway, there is entertainment at every corner, and there were kids at every station. Noise was a constant, but when the screaming got too intense or kids’ brisk pace turned to running, the whistles came out.
The sessions happen nearly every weekend, with rare exceptions. There is no cost. Salisbury said there are rules – discipline, at times, is needed. If there’s any fighting, the youths are done for the night. But mostly, he said, there will be a few hours of fun, and then the kids will go home happy. Salisbury said the regulars have grown to trust him, and he has helped them talk about issues such as bullying. He said the experience feels special.
“I haven’t heard of other police departments that do this,” he said.
Kids night out events are set from 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at the Maple Park Police Department, 302 Willow Street, Maple Park. To learn more, call 815-827-3286.