Reprinted with permission from the Irving (Texas) News, December 17, 1995
For police officers who constantly face the negative aspects of life, a little smile goes a long way.
And that was the simple goal of more than 20 Irving police officers and personnel who sang Christmas carols to sick children Thursday at Children's Medical Center of Dallas and Scottish Rite Hospital.
"I thought it would be fun to see the kids smile," said John Cullison, who came to the Irving Police Department 11 months ago. "They need all the encouragement they can get, and if we can make them happy, it's all worthwhile." Each year, IPD officers sing Christmas carols for the children, and then an officer, dressed as Santa Claus, makes a surprise visit and passes out toys. "The children at the hospital are in the environment that is not a very happy one, and I go to help make their day_and maybe their Christmas season_just a bit happier than it would be without our visit," said Officer John Vardiman, one of the coordinators of the event.
It was not difficult to see how much the children enjoyed the mini-concert. Seaver Sewell, four, was laughing and rocking back and forth to the beat of the four guitars. He also had his new teddy bear, given to him by Santa Claus, dancing to the music with him.
Seaver's father, Jim Sewell, a Dallas fire fighter, said he knew this visit meant a great deal to his son, a patient in the cancer ward. "I think this is great," Sewell said, "These kids have a lot going on, and this helps take their minds off things. Seaver was really excited. And, it's always good for kids to see police officers this way."
According to Kim Carvey, child life specialist at Children's Medical Center, the officers really make an impact on the kids.
"The kids have been very excited," Carvey said. "The kids love music, and this is a great motivator for them to get out of bed. It's so nice that the police department can come here and put on a concert for all the kids. The kids really look up to the police officers. They are in awe when seeing the officers, in a group, all in their uniforms, doing what you wouldn't normally expect them to be doing."
Candidia Carvajal said her nine-year-old son, John Paul, was waiting for the Irving officers to come to Children's Medical Center all day. "I've been really excited," John Paul said. "It's neat because it's something new."
Before singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," John Vardiman told the kids, "to sing really loud because, who knows, maybe Santa will come." All the children began shouting out the song when out came Officer Mark Talley dressed up as Santa, with a big red sack full of teddy bears, IPD stickers, coloring books and crayons. "All the children's faces lit up immediately."
"It's amazing what seeing Santa does for the kids," said Brian Alford, public affairs manager at Children's Medical Center of Dallas. "It helps give them a more normal Christmas. It really lifts both the kids' and the parents' spirits."
Singing at the two hospitals has been a long-standing tradition at the IPD. One reason for the success of the program is that the officers put themselves in other people's shoes.
"If my kids were sick, I'd want somebody to do it for them," Talley said. And such empathy is how it all started more than 20 years ago. The program began in 1972 when one of the officer's children was in the hospital during the holidays.
"My daughter was in Scottish Rite, and I went and visited her one time with my uniform on, and the kids went crazy_they wouldn't hardly let me out," said Officer Billy Jack Davis, a 32ø Scottish Rite Mason. "So I started bringing officers to the hospital to sing for the kids, and it branched out to Children's Medical Center of Dallas. Children just love police officers."
Davis said the officers also get something out of their visit. "Doing things for children often makes the officers' Christmas," Davis said. "Some years I'm not in the Christmas spirit at all until I come here."
Originally the money for the toys was taken out of the individual officers' pockets. For the past 17 years, the Irving Police Association has paid for the program.
Vardiman said he agreed with Davis. He gets an even bigger present than the ones handed out to the children. "For me personally, I think the children make me happier than I make them. Because of their eternal optimism," Vardiman said, "they give us more than we could ever give them."