For a week this summer, youth from across the state will have the opportunity to attend a recreational/educational camp sponsored by the West Virginia Sheriff's Association.
Since 1994, the association has presented the Youth Leadership Academy, which covers such subject matters as drug and alcohol abuse awareness, school and juvenile violence, firearm safety and cultural tolerance.
"This is something that is very near and dear to me," said Wetzel County Sheriff Tom Shepherd, the commandant of this year's academy.
"(Kids) come here unsure of what's going on, unsure of the people, unsure of themselves and how to handle trying times," he said. "After just a week, it's amazing to see how these kids come together and gain so much confidence. When it comes time for the graduation, that's when you see the tears flowing."
This year's academy is scheduled July 16-21 and will be held at the University of Charleston. First-time applicants, called cadets, must be either 14 or 15 years old and there is a $50 registration fee.
Parents can apply for a fee waiver, Shepherd said.
Attendance grows every year, he said, although the camp limit is 150. Second-year attendants are called junior counselors, he said, and third- and subsequent-year attendants are senior counselors.
"By the time they get to that stage, they actually earn some money and we give them some responsibility," Shepherd said. "Senior counselors can come back more than once, but because we are limited in size, we can't take everybody. That's probably the hardest part for me is deciding who will come and who can't."
Several youth from North Central West Virginia have applied and local sheriffs are encouraging even more to sign up.
"I went up on the sheriff's day last year and was very impressed with the way it was set up," said Taylor County Sheriff Clark Sinclair. "I went with my chief deputy and my boys. It's a really great opportunity for kids with the different programs and the things they do. I just wish more kids in every county would take advantage of this opportunity."
For more information about the academy or to get an application and/or fee waiver form, contact the sheriff's association at (304) 345-2232 or send e-mail to email@example.com. Applications also can be obtained through each county sheriff.
Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446