When John Michael King was a baby, his grandmother's dog, Oliver, guarded his crib.
Martial Arts of America kids John Michael King (from left) Nathan Boyd (back) Christopher Lugo and Tyler Mock collected over 500 stuffed animals to be given to the sheriff's departments from Aiken, Richmond, Columbia and McDuffie coiunties to give to children in unfortunate circumstances.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
John Michael, 10, wants a stuff version of the dog - donated by his grandmother - to protect children in crisis. He and three friends have spent the last few weeks gathering stuffed animals for donation to local police.
Police officers try to keep stuffed animals in their cruisers to comfort children. Four departments - Aiken County Sheriff's Office, McDuffie County Sheriff's Office, Richmond County Sheriff's office and representing Columbia County, the Harlem Police Department - received almost 150 each through the efforts of the four boys.
"You would not believe what a stuffed animal can do for a crying kid," said Officer Bill Turner, Harlem training officer.
John Michael, Nathan Boyd, 9, Christopher Lugo and Tyler Mock, both 10, all study Chun Kuk Do at Martial Arts America in Evans. The boys all have blue belts - except for John Michael, who has earned an advanced purple - and are members of the studio's Black Belt Club.
As club members, they are required to train for their black belt test and earn 12 patches including citizenship, leadership, dedication, emergency preparedness and, of course, community service. Their efforts have to be documented and turned in to the United Fighting Arts Federation before they can receive a patch.
The boys all agreed they wanted to do something to help other kids. They kicked off the Martial Arts American Kids Helping Kids Stuffed Animal Drive on Aug. 1.
"They do not understand about being hungry and having no money to buy a can of food," said Karen Boyd, Nathan's mother. "Any of them can relate to being lost or in an accident. They would even explain it to the other students at school.
"They are more enthusiastic about this. They really wanted something to impact children, not just adults."
Parents helped the boys make phone calls to businesses and sorting toys, but the boys handled any business they could. All four made their own gift-wrapped donation box placed in the studio and the Aiken location.
They wore their uniforms to collect animals from Belk's in North Augusta, Toy Box in Augusta's Surrey Center and Dillard's in Aiken and the Augusta Mall. What Tyler thought was the most fun was picking out stuffed animals with gift cards donated by Wal-Mart.
Representatives of three of the departments came to the Evans studio Saturday to be presented the 583 total collected toys.
"I take my hat off to the kids," Officer Turner said. "They have done great."
The idea came up at Mother/Son night at a Green jackets game. The mothers saw a police officer and asked what would be meaningful. The boys loved the idea, realized what their impact could be and made it happen.
"They are so in case their parents had a wreck, they would have a stuffed animal to hold onto," John Michael said.
The boys must complete two community service projects to earn the patch. John Michael is serving in the soup kitchen at his church.
"We are so full of pride that they thought of children first and wanted to help kids," said Julie Tedesco, John Michael's mother.
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