A police officer is a symbol of protection and fortitude—a person who serves with valor, putting their lives on the line to keep communities safe and support those in need. Yet many of us don’t realize that those same officers can also find themselves needing assistance from the community they serve and protect.
Across the country and around the world, there are opportunities to honor everyday community heroes such as police officers by lending a helping hand to them and their families in times of critical need. One such philanthropic organization has been doing just that since 2001: the Eagle & Badge Foundation of Los Angeles, a nonprofit created by the members and supporters of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
The foundation’s philosophy is to give back locally and do the most good by supporting issues and causes that are important to Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers and their families. The foundation has contributed everything from money to pay for household bills when a police officer is ill to service dogs for children of police officers’ families to monetary support during major disasters affecting police officers and their families.
“We’ve funded hundreds of cases both large and small,” said Scherr Lillico, executive director of the Eagle & Badge Foundation. “Some are for individual officers, some, for instance, are for a community organization that an officer might be involved with that helps kids. The majority of cases now are officers and officers’ families needing our assistance.”
Partnering for ‘Good’
Eagle & Badge Foundation is now partnering with YouCaring to harness the power of crowdfunding to further its efforts to fund important LAPD causes and projects. The foundation is currently running three campaigns on the site, including a general fundraiser to support the foundation and two fundraisers for its End of Watch Memorial Wall, a traveling exhibit dedicated to LAPD officers who have fallen in the line of duty. One fundraiser aims to raise money to purchase a new trailer that will enable the exhibit to travel to more places. The other fundraiser is designed to drum up support and raise awareness for the End of Watch Memorial Wall in general.
The Eagle & Badge Foundation’s efforts have made quite a difference in the local community, no matter how big or small the contribution.
“In some instances, it’s $500 to $1,000 dollars for a family’s household bills or who may be unable to pay their mortgage due to an illness, and with projects like the service dogs, the impact it has on the child and the family is pretty dramatic,” Lillico said.
A History of Helping
The Eagle & Badge’s first case back in 2001 was providing the funds necessary to properly train a service dog for an autistic child of a police officer’s family.
“Their young child was autistic and what they call a ‘runner.’ He was getting out of the house a lot,” Lillico said. “They had raised some funds through the community, but service dogs are very expensive to buy and train, and we contributed about $10,000.”
The foundation’s gift made all the difference to Marie and Bob Von Voigt, whose son, Jake, 7 years old at the time, had recently been diagnosed with autism.
“The medical term for what he did was ‘elopement,’ which was running away, and he started doing it more and more,” Marie Von Voigt said. “There were a couple of incidents where I didn’t know which direction he went, so I started trying to figure out a way to find him and thought a ‘tracking dog’ was a good idea.”
She wrote an article about the family’s situation, which ended up appearing in The Blue Line, the LAPD’s newspaper, and she had already picked out a Labrador to train. The breeder decided to donate the dog to the Von Voigt’s, and she was named “Boo” because that’s what Jake said every time he saw her.
After contacting a former officer of the Anaheim Police Department, Von Voigt realized the extensive training involved (which included work with other police dogs) would amount to roughly $15,000.
She persevered and was able to raise some money before Eagle & Badge stepped in with the rest.
“If it wasn’t for Eagle & Badge, I would not have a dog that was not only a tracker but a service dog,” Von Voigt said. “In order for anybody to be successful in anything they do, you need someone beside you to be supportive. I couldn’t be successful with what I wanted to accomplish with my son without Eagle & Badge, and I can’t thank them enough.”
In one instance, Boo did have to track Jake after he ran away from the house barefoot, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt, and ended up nearly a mile away outside the family’s gated community just before dark. In Jake’s teen years, when he started having seizures and meltdowns, Boo provided a calming force by simply going to him and being present. Nowadays, since Boo passed away four years ago, another Labrador, Crystal (Boo’s sister), provides that support to Jake, who is now 21.
“Eagle and Badge has had a huge impact for our family and I think for anybody who needs that type of help,” Von Voigt said. “ If you need help to buy a wheelchair for someone who has cancer, for example, they’re going to support you. I think they have made the community more of a family, and we feel we are a big part of that bond. When a family feels there’s an officer in need, they are there to help.”
Von Voigt’s husband has been with the LAPD for 32 years, and they have been married for 31 years, with two daughters in addition to Jake.
Lillico said other cases that stand out for her include two other service dogs Eagle & Badge has funded, the last of which was for a police officer’s little girl, who had not spoken and was very withdrawn.
“Once they got the service dog, they told me she wouldn’t stop talking,” Lillico said. “It made such a difference for her because the dog relaxes her and was trained to come to her side and calm her and try to play with her when she became frustrated and upset. They said it was almost like they could see the anxiety just melt away when the dog was around her.”
In another case, a police officer’s wife was thrown from the horse she was riding on their anniversary and became a paraplegic. Eagle & Badge worked to get her a special therapeutic bed that cost $8,000. The company that made the bed donated a portion of it and then Eagle & Badge paid for the rest. The bed allowed her to do therapy and exercises at home, which her husband says has been incredibly helpful because they don’t have to drive to therapy sessions every day, and she continues to recuperate.
Wall of Honor
Meanwhile, one of the most important initiatives of the foundation is its End of Watch Memorial Wall, a traveling exhibit dedicated to the 207 LAPD officers who have fallen in the line of duty.
“It is dedicated to all of the officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, and unfortunately there will at some point be new names added to the Wall,” Lillico said. “The Wall stands to show our respect and admiration for the officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice and for their families who have given so much.”
According to Lillico, once Eagle & Badge has the trailer, the Wall will also become an education center to make community members much more aware of the life of police officers and the sacrifices they make.
The Wall weighs 15,000 pounds and encompasses five pieces. It has been traveling throughout Southern California, the state and regionally, and the hope is to take it to destinations around the country. But it costs thousands of dollars each time to move it from one location to the next, between man power, forklifts and truck rentals.
“We’ve been getting a lot of requests for the Wall, but we can’t afford to move it everywhere,” Lillico said. “So we have a campaign under way to purchase a trailer so the Wall pieces can be rolled on a lift gate, the lift gate goes up, and the Wall goes into the trailer. That will save us a lot of money so the funds we raise will be dedicated to the movement of the Wall and the educational center operation, and to be able to help officers and their families.”
The End of Watch Memorial Wall and the educational center is an important part of the foundation’s future growth, according to Lillico.
“As the Wall travels, the Eagle & Badge Foundation travels, so hopefully people will become much more aware of what we’re doing and be kind enough to support our efforts,” she said.
Consider helping L.A.’s everyday heroes by donating to one of the foundation’s three YouCaring fundraisers: Support the Eagle & Badge Foundation, Spread Awareness for the Eagle & Badge Foundation and Honor the End of Watch Memorial Wall.