Cross-posted from the Lake County-Sun Times (Suburban Chicago)
By KENDRICK MARSHALL
WAUKEGAN — Robert Abbott Middle School sixth-grader Gabriela Garcia will do almost anything in her power to save the horses.
As part of Red Ribbon Week, the school launched its “Money Wars” fund-raiser last week to gather donations to help save the Police Department’s mounted patrol division. The campaign is expected to last until the school begins winter break.
During an assembly held outside the school, students held up signs in a show of support and were able to pet the four horses that police officers brought to the event.
“I was excited to touch the horses,” Garcia said. “I have two just like them back in Mexico.”
Social studies teacher Holly Nash, who is spearheading the drive, was moved to help the unit after reading about its plight last month in the Lake County News-Sun.
City officials informed the department nearly three months ago that it would no longer be able to support the patrol.
“The mounted police are very valuable to the community, and we don’t want to see them go,” Nash said.
Police Department officials said about $35,000 would be needed to help pay for the horses’ yearly board, upkeep and insurance.
Since 2004, the four-horse patrol has been active a few times a month for crowd control at parades, high school sporting events and Scoopin’ Genesee.
The unit also works with a network of law enforcement agencies to supplement the police presence during riots, marches and protests.
Waukegan Police Chief Artis Yancey said the department is hoping for help from private donors.
Nash said the school campaign will create friendly competition among students and give them an opportunity to learn about the mounted horse patrol.
“They are our community liaisons, and the children need to know what they do for us,” Nash said.
Principal John Samuelian was impressed that the students decided to take up the cause.
“It is wonderful for the students that they would be willing to help the Waukegan police mounted patrol. I am very proud of them,” Samuelian said. “It says a lot about the character of these children.”
Deputy Police Chief Wayne Walles appreciated the school having a vested interest in the small police unit.
“We are honored that the school would take this cause up as their community project,” Walles said, who mentioned the police department has received numerous inquiries in recent weeks from entities interested in making contributions. “It is nice that so many young people care about their community.”