The young brother and sister had been in a vehicle crash. They were fine but the family car was totaled. Even worse for the siblings was that their sports equipment, including the boy’s favorite ball, had been inside the car. Enter Sgt. Michael Puka.
Sgt. Puka met the siblings a few days after the accident. It just so happened he had a bunch of sports balls inside of his patrol car. He gave some balls to the brother and sister, whom he estimated to be 9-11 years old. “I gave them a few extra for being brave,” Sgt. Puka said. “They
were super excited. It was really cool.”
Similar scenes played out across Collier County over the summer, thanks to the Collier County Sheriff ’s Office’s Have A Ball program. As students and children continued to social distance during the final weeks of summer, CCSO set out to bring some entertainment to kids throughout the county with the Have a Ball program.
Because the agency was forced to suspend its annual Summerfest events in light of COVID-19, students who enjoyed interaction with deputies and their peers during these events missed out on open gyms, the agency’s popular Hot Summer Nights events, and activities like Fishing with a Deputy at the Naples Pier.
Instead, the agency decided to give out free sports balls to children in the community. Deputies from each district throughout Collier County, along with deputies in the agency’s Youth
Relations Bureau, carried footballs, basketballs, volleyballs and soccer balls in their vehicles to hand out to kids they encountered while on routine patrols.
“I was an athlete myself and there is a certain joy in playing outside and interacting with your neighborhood friends,” said Sgt. Puka, who is assigned to CCSO’s Immokalee District.
The program aims to strengthen ties to the community, build trust among youth and law enforcement and provide safe entertainment as we continue to social distance. Deputies handed out the majority of the 600 sports balls that were purchased. Each ball had a sticker with the agency’s contact information attached to it giving families a handy point of contact for the Sheriff ’s Office should they need the agency’s assistance in the future.
“You have a non-emergency number on there in case you need anything,” Sgt. Puka said. “It’s a good way to open up the lines of communication.”
The initiative offered children a safe and fun activity that helped to keep them busy over the summer. Sgt. Puka said he hopes to reintroduce the program around the holidays to help
entertain kids over winter break.