Open Heart’s volunteer motivated by desire to help othe

 

BY MICHELE MURPHY

Before becoming a North Ridgeville police officer 23 years ago, Lt. Tony Lee served in the U.S. Army in Somalia. He says the experience made him ask himself, “How am I going to help in my own community?”

During his rookie year on the department, Lee recalls that then Captain, now retired chief, Richard Thomas took note that Lee seemed really good with kids. So he approached Lee about the possibility of getting involved with Operation Open Heart. The nonprofit sponsors an annual camp for school-age boys and is run by cops and firefighters/paramedics who donate their time to the effort.

Twenty-one years later, Lee is every bit as enthusiastic about the organization as ever. He is particularly struck by having the opportunity to watch campers who attend for several years, he calls them “repeat campers,” as they grow.

He says that when he became a cop, like so many fellow officers, he did so because he “wanted to make a difference.” He said that, over his career, there have been occasions when people let him know that he had. He laughed when recalling a time a very large man – and Lee is 6’2″ – stood in front of him and said, “You arrested me for DUI.”

Not sure what might come next, Lee was rewarded when the man told him that what Lee said to him that night made him stop drinking. Lee said the man and his wife had then started a successful landscaping business.

“My belief is to help change awareness – helping people know it could have been really bad.”

He said a lot of cops just want to give back.

Lee  knows that by being a good role model, it can have an impact. He has seen it in Operation Open Heart and is grateful that his on-going participation is supported not only by the current chief, but also the mayor.

Lee admits willingly that his involvement in the program is not totally selfless. “I get enjoyment out of doing this,” he smiles as he gazes out at the organized chaos of day four of “cop camp.”

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