CHIEF’S CORNER | Capt. James Fryhoff
Pink Moment Beauty
Young Mural Artist Completes Circle of Community
Since becoming the Chief of Police in Ojai, one of my goals was to connect with the community in a very personal way.
When I first arrived in Ojai there were a few incidents that really brought to light how little some people knew about what the sheriff’s office does and what our deputies do and why. Which is really a shame because we are very proud of the work we do and are proud to serve our community as your law enforcement professionals.
As part of my outreach campaign I wanted to make sure that our community knew exactly what we were doing and why, because I know that what we are doing is geared towards making us a safer community, who doesn’t want that?
So what did I do about it? I joined several local Facebook pages, I began having a coffee with the chief gathering, I hosted a citizen’s academy, I write a column called Chief’s Corner in the online magazine The Hub. I also made a point of being out in the community. I walked to lunch, met with people in the park, and made a point of being a resource for our community.
At the same time that I was building a relationship with the community, I was setting an example, developing competency for our deputies, building morale, stating expectations, and setting the tone for the deputies assigned to the Ojai Valley. For the morale building I took ownership of our station, I have several projects in the works that were designed to be practical, and also give deputies a feeling of enjoyment in working at a station that is well-maintained and cared for.
One of the station projects is redoing the landscaping at the station. The Ojai Valley is in a perpetual drought and I did not want to waste water by watering grass. Local designer, Paul Hendershot, donated his time and skill to design us a drought-tolerant, butterfly sanctuary police station. The drawing are complete the crews are ready to work, I am just working on donations of plant material to get it started.
The other project was painting the inside of the station with brighter colors and properly displaying the trophies we have for our police Explorer Post and out Deputies of the Year.
When I sought a place for the trophies I had a floating shelf installed and placed the trophies on the shelf, unfortunately, the wall behind the trophies was missing something …. it needed a picture, a map, or a painting…. or better yet a mural. One thing I am quite confident about is my lack of artistic ability. However, I am fully aware that Ojai is filled with many people with artistic talents. I reached out to a local resident and friend, Elizabeth Rose, I have made since getting to Ojai and asked her if she knew of anyone interested in painting a mural on the wall inside the police station. I explained to Elizabeth that I do not have budget for a painter but would pay for the paint out of my own pocket. Lo and behold she found me a painter. Enter Aubrey Larson.
Aubrey is 12 years old, 11 when she started the project. Aubrey did not know what to make of this opportunity to paint at a police station nor what we are actually like. Yet day after day, a little at a time she showed up to work on her project. We all got to watch this art come to life as she added a little every day. Her dad, Jordan, mom, Leah, and brother, Ethan, would come with her to the station to watch her paint as well.
What I didn’t know at the time was Ethan wanted to be a police officer someday. This turned out to be a great opportunity for him too, seeing what we are like and when he turned 14 (the minimum age to be an explorer), joined our police Explorer Post.
In December, Aubrey finished her painting and it was more than I could ever have hoped for. It is a reflection of what she and I see in the Ojai Valley. It is so beautiful, that I decided not to put the shelf and trophies in front of it! However, it adds to the uniqueness that is Ojai, the fact that we have a local artist with a signature piece at the Ojai Police Station.
I can’t think of anything more “Ojai” than that.
After Aubrey completed her painting, her dad, Jordan, reached out to me and asked if I could call him when I had a few minutes, “no rush” he says. I called him back, we had a great conversation, and he shared with me things that make this story even more compelling. He says, “I wanted to wait until Aubrey was done so you wouldn’t treat her any differently.”
He proceeds to tell me that Aubrey was born with a significant stomach deformity that caused her to have severe acid reflux. The reflux was so bad, she refused to eat and began failing to thrive. Aubrey underwent surgery after surgery trying different things to minimize the reflux. However, there was no good solution. A couple of years ago, Aubrey was admitted to Children’s Hospital 14 times for a minimum of two weeks each visit. It was during these long visits of being stuck in a hospital and in a hospital bed that Aubrey developed her passion for art and painting as it was the only thing she could really do from her hospital bed.
So Jordan then asks me if I had seen her come to the station with a little backpack. I mentioned that my girls have some similar backpacks that they use to carry around their belongings. That is when he told me that, the backpack was Aubrey’s TPN, a way to get necessary nutrients. All of sudden it made sense why she wouldn’t eat the food we had been offering her, she had to be extremely careful about what she eats. I told him how grateful I was that he allowed Aubrey to share her talents and passion with us at the police station.
There is something special about having a mural painted by a 12-year-old local girl at the police station that helps draw a connection between the community and their police force. Even a greater accomplishment that her brother is now an Explorer and pursuing his dreams of being a law enforcement officer, and after talking with Jordan, a sense of reassurance that we are actually normal people.
Jordan told me that he always saw us driving around and always look very serious and unapproachable, and yet inside the station he got to see a very different side of us, the human side, the side that is familiar, such as a brother or sister, son or daughter, dad and mom, because we are. We are all of those things.
Our family got a little bigger this year, we gained a new family, one that has left a mark on this police department, and certainly this chief, forever.