Operation Round Up: Youth Explorers Post

Your small change makes an impact on the success of the youth in our communities: Stearns County Youth Explorer Post builds self-worth and self-confidence while exposing young adults to career in law enforcement.

Stearns Electric Association’s Operation Round Up® (ORU) program gives our member-owners the opportunity to give back to their local communities by rounding up their monthly electric bill to the nearest dollar. The rounded-up funds are placed in a trust fund and administered by the member represented trust board. Local civic organizations and worthy causes receive ORU funds through an application and selection process.

Established in 1979, the Stearns County Youth Explorer Post offers a chance for young adults to learn more about law enforcement. Individuals between the ages of 15 and 21 can participate to gain first-hand experience of what it is like to be a police officer in Central Minnesota.

“Over the last 40 years, the Youth Explorer Post has offered a positive environment for young adults who live in Central Minnesota. Youth explorers receive positive mentorship with sworn law enforcement officers, dispatchers and correctional officers,” Deputy Sheriff Eric Schultz, Stearns County Sheriff’s Department, said. “The program builds self-worth and self-confidence, which are key to becoming successful members of our communities.”

“The goal of the program is for individuals to get a taste of what it is like working as a law enforcement officer,” he continued. “To start, we teach explorers the basic skills they need to be successful, such as first aid, how to talk to and communicate with different individuals and how to make quick decisions on their own.”

“Once they know the basics, we run through practice scenarios to test the explorers’ ability to respond to an incident and provide hands-on education for common events such as traffic stops, domestic assaults and burglaries, to name a few,” Schultz said.

Through the program, youth explorers also observe the dispatch department, participate in ride-alongs with the Sheriff’s Department and volunteer at annual events throughout the county conducting traffic control and providing security.

Every year, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department sends as many youth explorers as possible to compete at a state skills competition in Rochester. Each team of four explorers participates in mock scenarios to test their approach to a scenario, their handling of a situation and the accuracy of charges filed for the appropriate level of crime.

“Allowing our explorers to compete in Rochester is a great way to test their knowledge, but an even better opportunity to grow as a team and a family, which is what law enforcement is all about,” Schultz said. “It’s a chance for explorers to build on their morals and ethics.”

Showing off the skills and knowledge that they’ve learned in the program is a highlight for many of the explorers.

“My favorite part of the program, besides the ride-alongs, is the scenarios,” said Jade, a youth explorer from Sartell. Jade has been involved in the program for three years and competed on a first-place team at the state competition last year.

Over the last two years the Sheriff’s office has seen an increase in program participation. In 2018-2019, there were 30 youth participants on the roster.

“Once an explorer joins the Post, they are usually in the program until they either age out, go to school or find a paid job,” Schultz said.

Several area law enforcement professionals started in the Youth Explorer Post, including Schultz. Stearns County Sheriff Steve Soyka was also a youth explorer from 1984 to 1991.

Although program growth is wonderful, it is not without difficulty. Applying for grants, like the one awarded through the Operation Round Up program, help the Sheriff’s Department provide these experiences to area youth every year.

“We provide the uniforms for the explorers, which are very dated – some are perhaps even original to 1976. The explorers provide their boots and duty belt gear,” Schultz explained. “Since many of our explorers come from broken families, we don’t want to burden them by asking them to pay for too many items needed for their Youth Explorer Post.”

“We are so appreciative of this Operation Round Up Grant – thank you Stearns Electric and Operation Round Up for these funds, which will be used to help replace old uniforms and provide nice polo shirts to the youth explorers this year,” Schultz concluded.