Through the Dueling Dragons of Orlando dragon boat team, police offers and teenagers work together through boating to develop a deeper understanding of each others’ worlds.
What in the world could cops and teens possibly have in common? You would be surprised.
Dueling Dragons of Orlando, also known as Cops and Kids, is located in College Park and was founded by Andrea Eliscu in 2011 with the goal of bringing police officers and inner city teens together in a unique way.
The organization’s dragon boat team is comprised of local inner city teens and officers of the Orlando Police Department who volunteer their time. “The Orlando Paddling Club, in 2009, approved having a dragon boat program,” Eliscu says. “It’s open to the public and anyone can join. The Dueling Dragons are one of 17 [teams] in that program.”
The kids who are involved are from Operation Positive Direction, Parramore Kids Zone and the city’s Families, Parks and Recreation Department. Each season, which runs from February to October, includes team building exercises, dragon boat competitions, practices and summer programs.
Besides bringing police officers and teenagers together, there was a second goal in mind when the team was formed. It was a way to honor Eliscu’s late husband. “I wanted to fundraise for cancer in a bigger way than I could as an individual,” she says. “I’d lost my husband, mother, sister, and sister-in-law. I was funding UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health. When I heard about the dragon boating, that is a real visual, and I thought I could get more people involved.”
The Dueling Dragons team competes in the Walgreens International Dragon Boat Festival every October. “There were 2,000 paddlers at Turkey Lake [in Bill Frederick] Park recently,” Eliscu says. “As the charitable partner in the dragon boat club is the UF Health Cancer Center, the funds are raised through the dragon boat club and donated to the cancer center.”
Both the cops and kids benefit. “For the cops, it is a 10-month program, a big commitment,” Eliscu says. “It means every other week they are out on the water with these kids. Mentoring and learning about each other.”
The teens and cops are in racing teams, 22 people to a boat, and they paddle to achieve one common goal – to win. Working together gives each participant a feeling of winning in more emotional areas as well. The kids’ pre-conceived barriers are broken down and trust is built up between the two former rivals. They get a chance to walk in each others’ shoes, so to speak. Eventually relationships are built and turn into lasting friendships. “We are excited to be growing, and this year we have seen a 100 percent increase in participation in this unique program,” Eliscu says.
Participant Officer Marlon McClain says, “When we got the officers and kids together in Cocoa Beach, we did the Great White North Dragon Festival. When the boat came in you could see the cops and kids hugging and high-fiving each other, and that means they could truly be a team.”