At age 2, Serenity and Jackson are learning their colors, numbers, and how to go potty.

But at Safe Haven Child Development Center on Tuesday, they and other children learned that not all superheroes wear capes when they were introduced to Bartlesville’s first responders on Superhero Day.

“This event familiarizes kids at a very young age with first responders, our vehicles, and our uniforms in a non-stressful environment,” said Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Derrin Jorgensen. “Generally, their first interaction with us is negative. But we want to interact with them on a level where there is no stress and no fear.”

Several ambulances, sheriff’s department vehicles, and even an Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter arrived at the school in mid-morning with lights flashing.

Children — many wearing superhero capes — were able to talk to first responders, climb up into Sheriff Scott Owen’s police vehicle and crawl around the Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter.

Washington County Sheriff’s Investigator Herb Cline passed out gold sheriff’s badge stickers to children anxious to get a one on their chest. Safe Haven staff provided box lunches for all the first responders who participated.

The goal was to show appreciation for those who protect and serve the community, said Alene Thompson, co-director of the center.

“But it is also to teach children that it’s OK to go to the police for help, that first responders are there to keep us safe,” she said.

Safe Haven owner Sierra Estes said the center opened in March, just two weeks before COVID-19 shut everything down. Attendance fluctuated greatly from day to day, but the center remained open. Now it has 90 children from infants to age 12 who come regularly.

When school starts, the center will provide before- and after-school care as well as full-time daycare.

“There really was a need for good, safe childcare. We do this as a service for the community. All our profit goes back into the center,” she said.

Estes was happy to honor the first responders, particularly since they have shown such strong support of the center’s purpose.

“We have a lot of contacts with first responders. It’s a pretty tight community,” she said. “They come by and check in on us, and we really appreciate that.”

Jorgensen said the sheriff’s department takes on as many similar events as possible to proactively develop relationships within the community.

“If we can make friends with these kids now and take that fear and stigma away, they will get to know us as people,” he said.“Then they are going to grow up to be supporters and will be less likely to go down the wrong path.”

This story by Kim Archer appeared on Miami OK News on August 6, 2020