To the casual observer they were a group of kids playing a summertime pickup basketball game outside a Golden Gate apartment complex.
To Cpl. Dale Dear and Cpl.Yesenia Pedraza of the Collier County Sheriff's Office, they were kids in serious need of, well, a basketball.
"They were playing basketball with a soccer ball,'' Dear said. "We took out a basketball from our car and began playing a two-on-two game with them."
Similar scenes featuring kids and deputies have been playing out in neighborhood communities around Collier County since mid-June when CCSO launched "Have A Ball This Summer!" The grass-roots, community-based program seeks to build relationships between kids and deputies while engaged in a positive activity.
Throughout the summer, the trunks of many marked CCSO patrol cars will contain a basketball, a football and a soccer ball. If a deputy is between calls and spots kids congregating, he or she will stop, take out a ball and toss it around with them while getting to know them. At the end of the informal encounter the deputy will leave the ball with the kids as a memento.
CCSO has purchased several dozen balls to get the program started. To keep it going, boxes have been placed in each of the CCSO substations throughout the county. Members of the community are invited to drop off their gently used sports balls such as basketballs, footballs, soccer balls and volleyballs for the program.
Cpl. Dear and Cpl. Pedraza left the basketball with the kids who were playing hoops outside Naples Place Apartments, 1800 Sunshine Blvd. on June 24. They designated one of the kids as the ball "keeper."
"As we were leaving, they ran to the edge of the parking lot to thank us for being there," Cpl. Dear said.
Kids are starting to approach deputies, even if just to say hi, thanks to the "Have A Ball This Summer!"
On a recent day a group of kids ran up to deputies in a patrol car outside the Peach Plum Apartments in the 1600 block of Sunshine Blvd. in Golden Gate.
"They wanted to know when we were going to play football and soccer with them," Dear said.
It's not just kids who are excited about the 'Have A Ball' program. Parents and other adults who live in the communities have also approached deputies to thank them for their involvement.
The program's continued success also depends on involvement from the community.
Members of the community may drop off their gently used sports balls between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at any of the following locations:
North Naples substation, District 1
776 Vanderbilt Beach Road
Naples, FL 34108-8707
Golden Gate substation, District 2
4707 Golden Gate Parkway
Naples, FL 34116-6901
East Naples substation, District 3
8075 Lely Cultural Parkway
Naples, FL 34113
Golden Gate Estates substation, District 4
1195 Oil Well Road
Naples, FL 34120
Everglades City substation, District 7
32020 Tamiami Trail E.
Ochopee, FL 34141
Immokalee substation, District 8
112 S. First St.
Immokalee, FL 34142-3900
Collier County Sheriff's Office
Human Resources lobby
3301 Tamiami Trail E.
Naples, FL 34112