By Sadie Hunter
Comforting kids in a time of crisis isn’t always easy, especially when the person comforting them is a complete stranger.
But Noblesville’s Megan Leahy, 35, is working to change that.
In just a few months, Leahy has teamed up with area police departments to gather donations of stuffed animals for officers to carry with them in their vehicles for times when children are in the custody of an officer – an initiative called Pals on Patrol, which she officially launched Sept. 11, 2015.
“Let’s say there’s a domestic situation, whether the child has been abused or they witness their parents doing something. The police are called. It’s a whole huge, scary situation. They’re crying. They’re sad. Maybe they’re having to be removed from their home or having to go to (the Department of Child Services) or a police department. The police officer or DCS agent can give them the stuffed animal for them to hold onto to feel comforted because we all had something as a kid – a blanket or a stuffed animal or a toy or some sort of object – that just made us feel better.”
Leahy said situations like these vary between domestic violence situations, car accidents where a parent may be receiving medical attention, narcotics busts and beyond.
With her own background in law enforcement, she said her father, Cpl. Mark Coons, was her biggest inspiration for starting Pals on Patrol.
“When I was like 3 or 4 (years old), he started an organization in my hometown that helped get Christmas presents for kids who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten anything … and I spent the rest of my childhood helping him shop for kids,” Leahy said. “He passed away unexpectedly almost three years ago, and I was trying to figure out a way to keep his memory alive a little bit with my children, and I wanted to give them the same experience he gave me. My husband and I are very into giving to others and putting others first, but substantially I felt we could do this. I had wanted to do something anyway, but I wanted it to be something different, that wasn’t already around.”
In an effort to stand out and yield big results, Leahy says she wants to continue to build the organization with the help of anyone and everyone. All are welcome to get involved, despite age.
“It comes full circle because the moms and dads see Pals on Patrol and they think, ‘Oh, we have this stuffed animal that we’ve never even touched, and we can go and talk to our children about … how we can help others,’ and that helps them feel like they’re giving back,” Leahy said. “Then I take it and give it to the policemen. Then they give it to children in need, and that builds a relationship between them. Especially with law enforcement lately, there are so many bad stories. I’m hoping that this can help soften that a little bit and show them that police aren’t always as bad as the media say they are. I wanted to give people something good to talk about because there’s really not a lot of that these days.”
Currently, Pals on Patrol has special partnerships with the Noblesville Police Dept. and Carmel Police Dept. Leahy said she is always looking for partnerships with local businesses for drop-off points and other law enforcement agencies, shelters, fire stations and more.
Leahy runs the organization by herself with no staff, but with the help of some family and friends.
“I really want to show people that I’m not just a stay-at-home mom trying to do something good for the community. I’m really trying to make a difference, and not just in Indy. I want this to be all over the Midwest, and I’d really like it to be big,” she said.
MORE ABOUT MEGAN LEAHY
Family: Husband, Tom, one daughter, 8, and a son, 5.
Education: Graduated high school in Illinois; graduated from Western Illinois University in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in Law Enforcement & Justice Administration. Western Illinois University has the largest Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration program in Illinois and is consistently ranked among the top schools for law enforcement training.
Volunteer work: Since her move to Noblesville in December 2008, Leahy has worked for a number of organizations, which include: digital writer for Indy’s Child, a parenting magazine; an event planner and former outreach director for City Moms, Indy’s largest social networking group for moms; security director for Whale of a Sale, an annual children’s consignment shopping event; a Girl Scouts troop leader and school organizer; a court-appointed specialty advocate in Marion Co.; and a volunteer for Project Indy Home, an organization that serves teen mothers living in unstable situations.
Facebook: Pals on Patrol
Contact: 217-816-5491 or email@example.com
Drop-off locations: The Urban Chalkboard Learning Studios and Play Café, 452 E. Carmel Dr., Carmel; BounceU, 9715 Kincaid Dr., Fishers.
What can be donated: Items must be new or like new. For a list of specifications for donations, visit www.palsonpatrol.com and click “How Can I Help?” under the “Donate” tab. Items that don’t meet size requirements are donated to the Humane Society for Hamilton Co.
Nonprofit status: Pals on Patrol is currently in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. At that point, donations will be eligible for tax write-off.