Though the sun was blazing on Saturday, children enjoyed a few runs through the Battle Buddies obstacle course at Sumter County Fairgrounds.
The fourth Battle Buddies event was hosted by the Palmetto Optimist Club. One of the basic programs of …
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The fourth Battle Buddies event was hosted by the Palmetto Optimist Club. One of the basic programs of Optimist International, the parent program of Palmetto Optimist Club, is "Respect for Law," said Melissa Marshall, president of Palmetto Optimist Club.
She said Battle Buddies is the local group's take on that program combined with its fitness program by having law enforcement, fire department and military personnel mentor children through the course.
"It's just our opportunity to say, 'Look, kids of the community, these are friendly people. They're not someone to be scared of,'" she said.
Marshall said the fitness side of the event was to get kids outside and away from video games and other non-physical activities that someone could do for hours at a time.
Volunteers from Crestwood High School's Junior ROTC program also helped on the obstacle course on Saturday.
The health aspect of Battle Buddies ties into promoting a positive influence between children and first responders and the military, said Nettie Bryant, director of health and fitness for Palmetto Optimist Club.
"I had an idea to bring a positive connection because of my military background," said the nine-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force with experience in military law enforcement.
The focus was to encourage children to view first responders and military in a positive light because of growing negativity toward law enforcement at the time of the first Battle Buddies event in 2016, she said.
"Instead of just talking about it," Bryant said, "I kind of wanted to try to make a small change in the community."
Marshall said the obstacle course is a result of the club members brainstorming and constructing the different features themselves.
In preparation for the event, members held workdays where they constructed and painted the obstacles. Some items used in the obstacle course were donated by local businesses and community members.
It gets bigger every year, Bryant said about the course, and it's exciting to see the kids have fun and to see their looks of accomplishment.
When they first see certain obstacles, they get nervous but get through it with the help of the mentors, she said.
Other activities on Saturday included a competition where children voted on their favorite motorcycle displayed by members of the Green Knights Military Motorcycle Club; face painting; a bounce house; shaved ice from Kona Ice; and demonstrations from local dance and martial arts groups.
Marshall said the money raised during Battle Buddies will go to Optimist International for scholarships, while money raised specifically from concessions on Saturday would go toward the Junior Optimist Club, which is just like Palmetto Optimist Club except it's managed by children, she said.
"They have their own government. They have their own budget," she said. "We teach them how to do that."
Marshall said it is instilling in younger people the importance of being good community members and volunteers.
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