TULSA, Okla. — After nearly a two-year hiatus, the HelmZar Challenge course northeast of downtown Tulsa has reopened its doors.
Since January of this year, more than 1,500 youth have gone through the challenge course, and it's proving to have positive results.
"We are increasing social trust. We're developing leaders and young people and critical thinking and hope," said Sarah Guardiola, the CEO of SkyWay Leadership Institute.
The challenge course, now owned by the leadership institute, was formerly operated by Tulsa Public Schools, but was forced to shut down in July 2017 due to funding issues.
Now it implements youth training programs through a ropes course challenge and team-building activities to develop leadership skills.
One of the curriculum-based programs is helping build trust in law enforcement and change the perception of officers.
"The goal of the program is really to build trust, to break the barrier between our community and maybe some negative thoughts that the kids might have about police officers and show them that we're actually real people," said Khara Rogers, a community relations officer with the Tulsa Police Department.
The officer runs the Tulsa Police Activity League (TPAL), which partnered with the SkyWay Leadership Institute, to interact with youth and help them build a bond with law enforcement.
How the program works: the officers in uniform meet with a group of students at the HelmZar Challenge facility and talk about their career. Then, they open up the floor to questions.
"It'll be anything from have you shot anyone recently or have you ever been shot to every time you show up, you take someone away from me," explained Guardiola.
Then, the officers change into regular clothes and join the kids to do team-building activities. This includes the ropes course obstacles, in which they're harnessed in and rely on their peers to complete the challenge.
"One of the best experiences we've had was with the group. At the end of the day, we kind of had a round-table with the kids, and one of them actually said, I forgot they were police officers, and that still gives me chills," said Officer Rogers.
Hope is what drives the TPAL and SkyWay Leadership Institute every day to build a better future, in which the kids aren't afraid of law enforcement but trust those wearing a badge.
"These are going to be the kids to grow up to be the leaders in our community, and they're going to be the ones that fight for us and fight for the community, and we want to show them that we have a partnership," said Rogers.
The youth training is available to local students and groups, but for the first time, they will be holding a grand opening free to the public on Saturday, September 28.
They invite families to come out and climb, zipline and learn what the institute does. There will also be food trucks, face painting and other activities.
It'll be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the HelmZar Challenge facility located on 1006 N. Quaker Ave. in Tulsa.
Stay in touch with us anytime, anywhere.
Sign up for newsletters emailed to your inbox. Select from these options: Breaking News, Severe Weather, School Closings, Daily Headlines and Daily Forecasts.