WEST NORRITON –
The First Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds
in fields as they lay;
In fields as they lay, keeping their sheep…
The shepherd is one of the oldest professions. Today, very few make a career of tending to actual sheep but the qualities of a shepherd – setting a positive example, trust, and sacrifice – are needed in both professional and personal life.
Bill Sheppard, a seventeen-year veteran of the West Norriton Police Department and a School Resource Officer for ten years, guards the largest flock in West Norriton Township with 1700 people on the Norristown High School campus on a daily basis.
As a School Resource Officer, Sheppard has several different roles. It’s part law enforcement, social worker and mentor.
A modern day shepherd.
A few weeks ago, Sheppard was in a monthly meeting with juvenile probation where it was brought to his attention that a young man, “John,” who Sheppard knew from his time at the high school (he currently does not attend NAHS), lived in a home that he and his three other siblings had no beds and slept on the floor. “John’s” parent is a single father who is raising four children ranging in age from 10 to 16.
Children sleeping on the floor in the winter prompted Sheppard to action.
“That was first and foremost,” said Sheppard thinking about the cold temperatures. “I had no idea that was the case in the home. If I could help I wanted to try to help as much as I could.”
Sheppard mentioned to the people in the meeting that a few years ago, juvenile detective, Mark Wassmer, with his connection to Donna Mengel, who is founder of the North Wales-based Lamb Foundation, was able to get a young man in a similar situation furniture. Sheppard mentioned it to Wassmer after the meeting who put him in touch with Mengel. The Lamb Foundation also operates the Sweet Repeats Family Thrift Shop to generate funds to cover operating expenses. Mengel agreed to help and within less than a week, a delivery of mattresses, beds with frames, dressers, lamps, a kitchenette, utensils and dishes were delivered to the residence.
“We trust the WNPD. They do a lot of good work. We are particularly fond of Det. Wassmer,” said Mengel. She’s known him over thirty years and was his junior high school principal. “We meet needs as we can where we have relationships and for things that have a heart for a our mission.”
Sheppard has known “John’s” father for about three years. He reached out to Sheppard looking for a mentor for his son and Sheppard became familiar with the family. He admits “John” has been in some trouble but calls him a, “respectful young man, a nice kid.”
Instead of traffic stops or a patrol which might involve mostly adults, Sheppard deals with teenagers. Teenagers riddled with hormones and a not-yet-fully-developed-brain.
“One of the things I see kids doing when they interact with law enforcement is making things into an issue that aren’t necessarily an issue. Stop. Think for a minute,” reminds Sheppard.
At a traffic stop if he pulls you over because you have a light out, his intention may be to give you a warning.
“If everything’s good you are on your way with a warning, but it turns into, ‘I’m not giving you my I.D. You stopped me for no reason,” explained Sheppard of certain situations.
Sheppard also serves as a guest speaker in classrooms where he discusses bullying, drugs and alcohol, drinking and driving, and other topics.
When dealing with juveniles, Sheppard tries to keep things in perspective.
“I know I did stupid stuff as a kid. Maybe I didn’t get caught. I try to use diversion programs and maybe give verbal warnings unless I feel kids need the help.”
Sheppard pointed out that the juvenile program is structured to get kids the help they need, especially if they can get community service.
In terms of the heightened security at schools since the tragedy in Sandy Hook, Sheppard says that many security measures were already in place before the Connecticut hooting in 2012.
“This district was already ahead of the game,” he commented.
It’s the first bone-chilling day of the winter and Sheppard sits in his nondescript office at the high school. It’s a Friday, and the students shuffle between classes with an upbeat tenor anticipating the weekend and upcoming winter break.
For Christmas, no one wants to end up on the “Naughty List” and it could be easy for people to deduct that “John” belongs on such a list since he had contact with law enforcement.
“I understand,” said Sheppard. “This is a good family, good kids…the other three siblings never had any contact with law enforcement. Even the older brother is respectful with me and adults, he just finds himself hanging out with the wrong crowd. He’s making a conscious decision to do that but…the way he carries himself versus the way someone else who has had contact with law enforcement is much different.
“A lot of time the reason these kids are in this position is the fact they want for things,” continued Sheppard. His voice is calm and thoughtful. It’s firm but is tinged with obvious care for the members of his flock.
“A lot of times it’s why they have contact with law enforcement. They see kids have things they don’t have and want what other kids have and choose the means of getting it the wrong way. Maybe by donating to these causes, it will prevent these kids from taking these things from somebody else.”
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you news of great joy.”
Sometimes a shepherd needs the help of an angel. None of these items donated by Mengel and the Lamb foundation are items a kid would ask Santa for.
“These are basic essentials and things we take for granted. These are critical for building a nest. Toys are a luxury,” said Mengel. “This was a perfect thing to do this time of the season.”