At the age of 5, Karlee Shaver had a life-changing experience when she was invited to accompany Marseilles Police Chief Jim Hovious in the city's annual Shop With A Cop program.
Now, she's paying it forward.
"Even though I was young, I still remember my shopping trip with Chief Hovious as such a positive experience that I have been helping with the program now that I'm older," said Shaver, now 15. "My mom was a single mother and raised me as her only child. Ten years ago, she signed me up for the program and I remember buying gifts for my mom and grandparents rather than just for myself. It was wonderful."
Shaver, an Ottawa High School sophomore, said she and Hovious have remained close.
"Obviously, Jim and the other officers are great people and it meant a lot to me to build a friendship with Jim who has become sort of a father figure to me," she said. "Being involved with this program over the years has taught me how good it feels to help others who need help for a better Christmas."
The chief said Shaver was among the first young participants in the shopping program during its initial years.
"Karlee is such a sweet girl and, through the years, we have become good friends," said Hovious, who has three children of his own, including twin daughters. "It has been wonderful to see her grow up and we're glad she's now involved in volunteering to help us and the kids."
Hovious said his department's Shop With a Cop provides a fun-filled day for a number of children in need within the Marseilles area while creating positive relationships with law enforcement. With the help of city firefighters, ambulance personnel and family members, Marseilles police escorted nearly 20 underprivileged children Dec. 9 shopping for Christmas presents.
"We gave them a breakfast, took the kids shopping, we came back and wrapped all of the presents and then we had a pizza lunch," Hovious said. "The unique thing about the experience each year is that many of the kids we take to the stores want to buy gifts for their parents, their family, whoever. We often have to remind them to buy something for themselves. It is really something."
Hovious said this year each child had about $225 to spend solely from local donations collected over the year. He said the children were chosen by their individual needs or through belonging to families facing challenging circumstances.
The added benefit, Hovious said, is this experience not only assists children who need help, but also it introduces many to local police officers for the first time. The hope is those positive relationships with law enforcement follow them as they age and encourage good choices.
"This program has taught me respect for policemen and proved to me many times over they are the good guy," she said.
Hovious said the day of shopping is the single best of the year for him on his job.
"I love shopping with the kids. And, to me, one of the amazing things that happens is when other shoppers in the store see what we are doing, very often people come up and hand us money right there on the spot," Hovious said. "The day is always one of excitement and enjoyment. It is always so wonderful and we are always so grateful for those who support this event."
Shaver concluded, "I will help, volunteer and support this holiday program as long as I can — even after I go away for college. It has brightened my life and I will never forget it or my friendship with Jim."