CHADWICK – Somewhere between Mount Carroll and Milledgeville on state Route 40 is a tiny town that seemingly sprouts from the earth below. For the people who live here, home is a little slice of heaven.
“I grew up here,” said Police Chief Ryan Lambert, 37. His chest didn’t puff out when he said that, but you could see him glow with pride.
Born in Morrison, Lambert was raised in Chadwick. He attended grade school and junior high here. When he was in junior high, the Milledgeville and Chadwick schools merged.
A 1995 Milledgeville High graduate, Lambert finished a bachelor’s degree at Western Illinois University in 2000. He was a probation officer for 7 years, and a sheriff’s deputy in a county near Chicago after that.
When the police chief’s spot opened in Chadwick, Lambert couldn’t pass on it. He already had been a part-time officer in town, and spent much of his time here.
Lambert, chief since about 2008, is working on a master’s degree through Kaplan University. Part of that program involves the concept of creative solutions surrounding the topic of community policing.
Lambert first brought up the idea about putting together a local youth group with his professor, also a chief of police, but for a much larger community in Texas. The professor’s small police department background appealed to Lambert.
“He could relate,” Lambert said. “[The professor] said, ‘Ryan, I think you need to get that going. … I think it would be a very good thing.’”
Lambert assembled the group in early May. It has six members, and Lambert says several more youngsters are interested.
Colton Haag, 15, was standing in a dugout and was “there to do something” when Lambert approached him at the park.
“I was seeing the same kids hanging out at the park,” Lambert said. “They weren’t doing anything bad or criminal in nature, but they seemed bored and without direction.”
Almost all of the boys in the group have had run-ins with law enforcement, such as vandalism, and one has been on probation. The infractions weren’t serious, Lambert said.
“He wanted to make this club,” said Marquez Glover, 15. “Ryan said it would it keep us out of trouble.”
In the 6 to 8 weeks that the program has been active, juvenile-related calls have been down from “quite a few,” Lambert said. “I’ve had one call since we’ve started this.”
In the beginning, one of the parents was skeptical, but overall, the parents have been very supportive and think it’s a great idea.
“I can tell that they’ve embraced it,” Lambert said.
They came up with a name, too: Chadwick Super Troopers.
“I challenged them to create their own logo, … and that’s what they come up with,” said Lambert, as he held a paper with a design that one of the boys had sketched out.
Etched in red at the center is the first letter of each part of the group’s name, spelling out C-S-T. A gray thunderbolt diagonally cuts across it, flanking feathered wings on either side of the crimson drawing.
“They’re talented,” the chief said.
The group plans to have the design emblazoned on T-shirts through Bill Mart T’s, a local shop that specializes in embroidery, screen and shirt printing.
The Milledgeville company will make a donation toward the shirts, and all of the businesses that have donated to the group will be listed on the back.
“They’re doing a lot of good work,” said Tyler Marks, 21, head of village maintenance and the group’s supervisor in the police chief’s absence.
“They did all the crosswalks, parking lines, handicap lines [on Main Street].”
The group has pulled weeds, swept up the basketball court, and cleaned the park, among other things, and they’re on the lookout for bullying behavior, too.
So far, the group has gotten a lot of good feedback.
Because the boys are volunteers, and aren’t paid, businesses and people donate toward their effort and a reward system that Lambert established.
“When I came up with this idea, I had to keep in mind that they’re kids, and there has to be a reward on the other side,” Lambert said. “… Otherwise, you’re going to lose them.”
Lambert reached out to the Clinton LumberKings, Chicago Cubs, Chicago Bears, and other big names in sports.
Right away, the LumberKings donated tickets and concession-stand vouchers. The Troopers went to their first game together about a month ago.
The Cubs and Bears sent the group care packages with shirts, sunglasses, stickers, and a thank-you letter commending them on a job well done.
In addition to his police chief duties, like going out on calls and administrative work, Lambert supervises four part-time officers. All of the time that he spends with the youth group is donated. He reworks his schedule to be able to fit in projects.
Lambert’s 9-year-old son, Mason, helps, too.
“It’s a good life lesson for him, as well,” Lambert said. “He’s interacted well with these boys.”
Group members meet weekly at the police station in Chadwick. Their time is not always spent sunsoaked with a broom in hand.
“It’s not just about going over what our next project is going to be,” Lambert said. “… We go over life education stuff, too ... about making wise decisions.”
The various projects also serve as opportunities for the boys to learn about new careers.
“I’ve told Colton quite a bit about being in city maintenance,” Marks said. “He said it’s an interesting thing. Pretty soon I’ll be going to school for my water license. It’s a dying industry. … They need more young people.”
Although businesses around town are capable of doing work that the group is doing, Marks said, “anything that these kids do is a learning experience for later on.”
“I think it’ll bring more respect for the things that are in the town,” Marks added. “And they’ll be more involved in preserving what’s here.”
Lambert emphasized that it’s not because the boys have done something good or bad that they are doing community service.
“They’re doing it because they care about the community, and they want to do better,” he said. “They want to do good.”
If you'd like to help out the Chadwick Super Troopers, an account has been set up at Triumph Community Bank, 123 Main St. in Chadwick.
For more information call Chadwick Police Chief Ryan Lambert's office, 815-684-5264.