The Youngstown Police Chaplaincy Corps marks two decades of service.
YOUNGSTOWN — A few top government officials joined a group of little-known city volunteers to celebrate 20 years of helping the community and the officers who serve it.
Youngstown Police Department officers chipped in on a red velvet raspberry cake to honor the Chaplaincy Corps on Friday in the department’s conference room, where Mayor Jay Williams and Chief Jimmy Hughes congratulated the men and women for their compassion and longevity.
It was Dec. 19, 1988, when Sheriff Randall Wellington, formerly the chief of police, began the Chaplaincy Corps with the intent of comforting victims and aiding officers with work-related grief. Twelve men were brought on board with the YPD back then, volunteering their time to ride with officers and counsel the community.
Hughes showed his gratitude to some of the past and present department chaplains at the event.
“I want to honor and even energize us to appreciate the fact that we’ve made it 20 years,” Hughes said. “And I respect [Wellington] as a great leader and for his part in this.”
Twenty years and three chiefs later, the corps has grown to 18 members with a spectrum of nationalities and denominations. Detective Sgt. Charles Swanson, the chaplain liaison for the YPD, said the expansion of the service accommodates the diversity of the city and the needs of the department and residents.
Swanson replaced Sgt. Delphine Baldwin-Casey in October of this year. During her time as liaison, she is credited with recruiting the department’s first two female chaplains.
At the celebration, she said the decision to diversify the corps came at a time when the department was seeing more female officers.
“The issue of gender was always there because I was one of the first five [females] in the department,” she said.
“Over the years, I’ve felt women made up a big part of who we serve and needed to be worked into the program.”
Like the diversifying staff, the role of chaplains has also changed, Swanson said.
“They form relationships with the officers, but they also build trust up between them and the community,” he said. “They’re really a great benefit to our men and women.”
Some of the chaplains said they feel their work is meaningful and that their involvement helps ease tense situations on the streets.
“As soon as I arrive — and it’s not me, but the presence of God — everyone calms down,” said Keith Neal, one of the ministers.
But few will take complete responsibility for their counseling, peace-keeping and prayers.
“God has called on us, and we should be concerned, thankful, grateful that he has chosen us,” said the Rev. Roosevelt Thompson. “So we strive to be everything we should be.”
Minister Marcia Walker promised, “Anything we can do, we’ll be there to serve with love in our hearts.”
Hughes said he hopes that in the future the department can afford more perks for the chaplains, who work for free and share a single police cruiser.
Williams said the work they do is an asset to the city.
“I always take comfort in knowing that if there’s a phone call [regarding a tragedy], that there was a call to one of the chaplains before me,” he said.