After the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, several Haverhill organizations came together with a mission: Spread peace and foster partnerships within the city.
For Carol Ireland and others, that started with the Haverhill Police Department.
Ireland was among those encouraging the most recent wave of Police-Youth Dialogues, a program she first helped with in Haverhill a decade ago.
Over the course of four "dialogue sessions,'' young people from Haverhill High School and two social organizations — the POSE (Power of Self Education) and Leaving the Streets Ministries groups — have gathered to take part in conversations with members of the Haverhill Police Department.
"We found that a lot of youth and officers didn't know each other," said Dennis Everett, co-founder of POSE.
A group of young people recently joined police officers Justin Graham, Katelyn Tully and Eric MacKinnon to rent kayaks from Plum Island Kayaks for a team building session on the Merrimack River.
Police Capt. Robert Pistone, said the afternoon kayaking session was a way officers could get to know young people in the community and avoid an "us versus them" sentiment.
"The foundation of all that we do is partnerships with the community," Pistone said. "Our officers really listened to the concerns of these youth. The goal is to hear how they feel, digest it and work on how we can better form our relationships.
"We recently had an event where Officer MacKinnon was out on the street in uniform and ran into one of the youth he was working with,'' Pistone said. "Instead of it being an 'us versus them' sentiment, it was 'hey, it's me — it's Eric."
Haverhill High senior Chelsea Daigle is among the students participating in the program.
"I've literally never had the chance to talk to a police officer before and I loved the opportunity the officers and youth had to make really interesting change in the community," she said.
Tully, one of the officers in the program, hopes it helps improve morale for both police and people in the community.
"It's been a tough year for police,'' she said. "It's nice to show our personality outside the uniform. When people deal with police, it's usually not a happy time in their life, so it's nice to break through those bonds and see kids in another environment. We have the chance to create lasting bonds with them and we're excited."