By JOHN T. WARD
The boy hadn’t been showing up at school, so a Red Bank police officer was dispatched to the family’s home to make sure everything was OK one day in January.
Nothing was amiss when Patrolman Michael Zadlock arrived. But the boy’s single-parent mother said she simply couldn’t get her son to go to school, and so she would reluctantly leave the pre-teen at home when she went off to work, Zadlock said.
“She just said flat-out, ‘I try to do my best to get him to go, but if he doesn’t want to go, what am I going to do?'” Zadlock recalled.
Zadlock spoke to the boy, telling him that if he went to school, he would visit him there the next day to talk about whatever he wanted. And the next afternoon, Zadlock was in the middle school vice principal’s office chatting with the boy about ‘Star Wars.’
They met again several times at the school, discussing video games and just shooting the breeze, Zadlock told redbankgreen earlier this month.
The interaction “kind of sparked an idea in my mind to create a program for kids who need positive role models,” Zadlock said.
“I’ve always had great role models in my life, but it made me think that maybe there are kids out there who don’t have a role model, don’t have an older brother,” he said. “Maybe their parents aren’t around as much, and they need to know there are people out there who will help them.”
A 33-year-old ex-Marine who served in Fallujah, Iraq, Zadlock has been with the RBPD for almost eight years. For four years, he volunteered with the Red Bank Regional football coaching squad and said that, years afterward, ex-players still thank him for the positive reinforcement he and others gave them at a critical time in their lives.
So Zadlock began crafting an idea for a mentoring program under which cops, firefighters and civilians from a range of fields could offer guidance to borough boys approaching high-school age. Dubbed Club 109, after the Garden State Parkway exit, the effort won a green light as an RBPD project from Chief Darren McConnell.
In initial phase, the program will focus on fifth-through-eighth-grade boys, only because Zadlock said he does not yet have a female counterpart, but he plans to expand the outreach to girls as well. The first group will be small, serving as something of a pilot program.
Zadlock has obtained a list of potential candidates from the middle school and is in the process of contacting their parents, but others interested in having their children participate can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The project is centered on community service and engendering civic pride, with boys accumulating points for efforts such as park clean-ups. The rewards will include outings to Blue Claws games or trips to the Liberty Science Center or a circus.
“As long as you do what’s expected of you, which is respecting your parents, getting good grades and not getting in trouble, you’ll be rewarded,” Zadlock said.
No borough money is involved: the effort will be funded by contributions, Zadlock said.
Middle school Principal Maria Iozzi sees Club 109 as an effort to “engage and provide an additional support system to our group of middle school boys,” she said in an email.
The program is expected to “reinforce a positive mindset, improve self-esteem, and provide the boys with tools that will allow them to succeed both, in school and in their future,” she said.