Children at a Columbus childcare program received some special visitors as part of an effort to bring male role models into their lives.

Tuesday’s Men in the Life of Kids event, for children enrolled in the Early Head Start and Head Start programs at Human Services, Inc., gave children an opportunity to interact with different men in the community, said Amanda Raisor, site supervisor at the Columbus-based organization.

The two childcare programs, which help prepare children for kindergarten, serve low-income families in the area, Raisor said.

The idea for the Men in the Life of Kids stemmed from a program that was offered at a Head Start location in Michigan, she said.

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Locally, many of the Head Start students don’t have fathers in their lives, said Crystal LaRue, a family advocate for the Early Head Start program.

“I want them to have fun, and the dads and the community to have fun,” LaRue said. “Some of (the children) have women raising them, and you can tell the difference in the classroom. A lot of them calm down when the men are there.”

But things were anything but calm when a group of children ages 3 to 5 climbed on LaRue’s husband, Steve, a Columbus Township fireman, one of a handful of volunteers from the department.

The children demonstrated rambunctious glee while climbing on LaRue after spending time at a table doing a quieter classroom activity.

It was a good, old-fashioned mugging, but Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department deputies weren’t there to arrest anyone — certainly not preschoolers.

“It’s nice to show them that we’re humans, too, and hey, we’re like them,” deputy Nick Martoccia said.

“Some of (the children) have women raising them, and you can tell the difference in the classroom. A lot of them calm down when the men are there.”

Crystal LaRue, family advocate for Early Head Start

Martoccia was joined by fellow deputy Kevin Abner, watching kids play in the gymnasium during the event. Both police officers saw the event as an opportunity to give back to the community and interact with children at the same time.

Martoccia, who has a 14-year-old son, Chase, said he hoped he and Abner could be role models for children.

“We’re here to show them that we care for them,” Martoccia said.

“It’s important to see men in different types of roles,” teacher Sabrina Hunter said. “It’s great to have the community come in and volunteer.”

State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, United Way of Bartholomew President Mark Stewart and other volunteers also participated in activities with children, such as crafts in the classroom.

Having a male present in the classroom changed the overall environment for children, teacher Katelin Hoevener said.

“They love it,” Hoevener said. “It’s pure joy for them.”

About Human Services Inc.

Human Services Inc., located at 4355 E. 600N in Columbus, offers childcare under its Early Head Start and Head Start programs to low-income families in the region.

It also provides energy assistance and other programs to individuals in need in Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson, Johnson and Shelby counties.

More information: www.hsi-indiana.com or call 812-372-8407

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com