Gilbert Elementary School fourth-grader Caleb, left, chats with Augusta police Chief Jared Mills on Nov. 12 during lunch in an office at the Augusta school. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — About a week after Caleb was matched with “his big,” he ran up to the dean of students, Kendra Lakeman, to share some news with her.

Caleb, a fourth-grader student at Gilbert Elementary School, is part of the Bigs With Badges program at the Augusta elementary school. Bigs With Badges is a national program under the Big Brothers Big Sisters program umbrella, and Caleb is one of five students to be paired with Augusta Police Department personnel.

“Miss Lakeman!” Caleb said as he ran across the parking lot of the school one morning, “You’re not going to believe this, but my grandfather used to work for the Augusta Police Department and he was really good friends with Chief Jared Mills!”

Caleb was matched with Mills all by chance, Lakeman said, but the match couldn’t have been more “perfect.”

Mills meets with Caleb on a weekly basis and calls it the “highlight of his week.” During their meeting, they watch movies together, play on the playground and share laughs. The secretaries who sit outside the room during Caleb and Mills’ visit said all they heard was laughing and said Caleb told them he had a “great time.”

“He is a wonderful boy who is so easy to talk to and be around,” Mills said. “Our meeting every week has truly been the highlight for me so far. I think I am getting just as much, if not more, intrinsic value out of my partnership with Caleb than he is for sure.”


Mills is one of five police officers from the department who share their time on a weekly basis with students at Gilbert Elementary School. He told the Kennebec Journal he would “highly recommend” the program to his colleagues because of “the value it brings to those involved.”

Gilbert traditionally hosts a Big Brothers Big Sisters program with students from Cony Middle and High School, but the program is currently on pause because of the pandemic.

As a video plays in background during indoor recess Nov. 12, Gilbert Elementary School fourth-grader Caleb, left, tells Augusta police Chief Jared Mills about his classroom at the Augusta school. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

With help from an innovation grant from the United Way of Kennebec Valley, the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program of Mid-Maine was able to create the partnership with the Bigs With Badges program.

Students are given a “big” for a calendar year and have to sign up for the program if they want to participate.

According to Mae Slevinsky, the special events coordinator of the program, the Augusta section of Bigs With Badges is the only program in the seven counties Big Brothers Big Sisters serves in Maine, and the number of participants depends on the number of people from law enforcement who sign up.

In the traditional program, students are given an older student or adult as a mentor. Slevinsky suggested as an example that an older student who participates in National Honor Society could make “the little” feel like they too could reach a similar goal.


Slevinsky said the Bigs With Badges program goes a step further in terms of enrichment for the children who participate.

“There’s the additional piece with Bigs With Badges where they are recognizing law enforcement as the people they are,” Slevinsky said. “They are not scary, they are not there to tell them they are in trouble, they can say, ‘The chief is my friend, he’s nice,’ and form a connection with trust.”

It can also increase the connection other students who are not part of the program have with law enforcement. Seeing the officers walk through the halls with the students and play with them on the playgrounds only helps strengthen other students’ trust of law enforcement.

Lakeman said the students who are in the program have been excited to come to school and it has given them a sense of stability in their week during a school year where many students have been in and out due to quarantining or COVID-19. Meeting with the officers is one thing the young students can rely on.

She added that the program has had a positive impact on the staff, too.

“For me, it’s like a pebble in the water,” Lakeman said. “Not only does it make an impact on the room, but also on the secretaries that heard them laughing. It’s promoting really good things for the Augusta Police Department and the kids who are here for it.”

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