Teen creates #PositivePatrol to send thank you cards to first responders

After being a victim of bullying, Emily began making thank you cards to law-enforcement agencies, corrections, EMS, firefighters and the military


By Kristi K. Higgins, Staff Writer
The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va.

STONY CREEK, Va. — For the past three years, Emily Finchum of Stony Creek — who turns 15 this month — has been making a difference not only in her community but across the United States and as far away as Afghanistan.

In June of 2016, #PositivePatrol was created by Emily as a result of being a victim of bullying in the third grade.

Emily created #PositivePatrol  in June 2016 after being a victim of bullying in the third grade. (Photo/#PositivePatrol)
Emily created #PositivePatrol in June 2016 after being a victim of bullying in the third grade. (Photo/#PositivePatrol)

According to Emily, one girl in particular was the main bully, but that girl caused other students to also pull [Emily's] hair, call her names, trip her in the halls, among other cruel intentional acts of bullying.

"It happened a lot in the bathroom," said Emily.

The worst incident was hard for Emily to discuss, however ... she did with a great sadness in her eyes.

"Someone left a note on my desk that read ... I'm going to kill you Emily."

According to Emily's mom, Tara Finchum, it got to the point that Emily did not want to attend school.

Tara stated, "After they switched Emily's classes, her grades improved immensely immediately."

Emily kept her attention during that stressful time focused on ways she could volunteer in the community. However, the opportunities that piqued her interest were not available to her due to her age.

Emily reached out to her school resource officer to help her in dealing with the bullying.

Turning a negative situation into a positive one, Emily began making thank you cards to personally thank law-enforcement agencies, corrections, emergency medical services, dispatchers, firefighters and the military.

Since the #PositivePatrol journey began, Emily has presented over 204,054 cards to first responders including soldiers.

When logistically possible, Emily along with her mother Tara hand-deliver the colorful cards. The mother-daughter duo has traveled to over 107 towns, counties and cities sharing positive messages throughout the commonwealth, as well as North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Indiana.

Beyond Virginia, 26 other states have been touched by Emily's #PositivePatrol movement and soldiers in Afghanistan surely were touched receiving gratitude from a thoughtful young child back in the states.

Emily also created support cards that contain the phrase "You're worth more than you know."

"I hand them out to classmates so they don't feel as if they are going through the trauma of being bullied alone," said Emily.

"The cards are my way of inviting classmates to reach out to me if they need help," added Emily.

Emily's five different cards:

  • Fire and EMS - Thank you for the many sacrifices you have made that are often taken for granted.
  • Law Enforcement and Corrections - Thank you for being there to protect and serve the community.
  • Military - Thank you for serving our country. You are a hero. Don't let anyone tell you different.
  • Dispatchers - Thank you for being the calm voice on the phone for the community.
  • Everyone - You're worth more than you know. (smiley face emoji) Always remember that.

Each message also contains the following:

  • Come look at my Facebook Group: #PositivePatrol.

Numerous VIPs have recognized Emily for her valiant mission of spreading positivity to first responders and individuals who protect the community.

On February 23, 2019, Emily was presented with Governor Ralph Northam's Fire Service Award for "Civilian Excellence in Virginia Fire Service Support".

Both Congressman Donald McEachin and Senator Mark Warner mailed Emily letters congratulating her on receiving the Governor's award.

Many organizations have invited Emily to visit their stations, departments, offices and attend special events to show their appreciation for devoting her time and efforts recognizing their duties and sacrifices.

"To date, we have visited 650 agencies," shared Tara.

Mayor of Petersburg Samuel Parham stated, "Young people like Emily showcase great innovation and passion! Her work through #PositivePatrol is truly remarkable."

Emily has received countless certificates of applications, awards and plaques.

Additionally, thanks to fans of Emily and her #PositivePatrol movement she has received 51 t-shirts, 555 patches and nearly 100 challenge coins including K9 coins.

Last year in August, Emily was presented with a resolution of support signed by the President of the Virginia State Firefighters Association Jimmy Beyer at the association's conference held in Hampton.

The resolution stated that the VSFA commends and supports Emily in her efforts to reach out to the disciplines of public safety, and recognized Emily for her dedication to helping others to overcome the effects of bullying.

The Virginia State Police presented Emily with a certificate of appreciation that read in part: The VSP is pleased to recognize Ms. Finchum for her incredible generosity and support for Virginia's first responders. #Positive Patrol "Thank You" notes have brightened the shifts of numerous individuals within the department and many other agencies she has visited; Ms. Finchum's exceptional dedication and kindness are to be commended.

How does Emily raise money for stamps, cards, fuel and supplies?

"I'm able to do all this with all the help and support from my family, donations and I have #PositivePatrol bracelets and decals I sell," said Emily.

When asked how it feels as a parent to have her child making such a positive impact in the community and beyond, Tara responded, "I'm so blessed that she took a negative situation and made it a positive one."

According to Emily, she receives many thank you notes for her positive actions saying, "The notes are all special to me, and I'm so honored that someone took time out of their day to do that for me."

Emily received a huge surprise on June 27. Her #PositivePatrol Facebook post read:

Mr. Adkins (Charlottesville ECC), Mr. Langley (Dinwiddie County Animal Control), Mrs. Crowder (Dinwiddie ECC) and Mr. Sheffield all worked together to get me a new bike today! I'm so thankful for everyone. Thank you so much!

When asked how she felt receiving the new bike, Emily answered, "I can't believe they did that for me. I'm so thankful. They all do so much for their community every single day."

What is Emily's ultimate goal for her #PositivePatrol?

"I would like to get as many thank you cards to as many first responders as possible, and I hope #PositivePatrol will help one person in a positive way," Emily stated.

Emily's favorite part of #PositivePatrol is seeing the expressions of surprise and thankfulness on people's faces when she hands out her cards.

Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard shared, "In 2016, I actually ran into Emily coming out of a restaurant after lunch, and she came up to me and handed me a card which meant so much to me. To see someone so young have so much passion and care for those serving was humbling and promising.

"A few days later," he said, "Emily was actually at the Chesterfield Sheriff's Office where she made a huge impact handing out the thank you notes which I still see today ... three years later ... hanging on various deputies' office walls or sitting on their desks."

Sheriff Leonard continued, "Emily definitely made a lasting impression on all of us which we will always remember and cherish. She lifted our spirits that day, increased our pride in ourselves and our organization, and gave us hope for our future."

Sheriff Leonard and his team thanked Emily for her support and passion by presenting her with one of their sheriff's office blankets.

Last Wednesday, this reporter met Emily and her mom at the Burrowsville Volunteer Fire Department to watch her in action handing out gratitude cards. Although Emily had visited the station already once before, she was compelled to do so again since they just celebrated their 50th anniversary.

Eighteen firefighters enjoyed checking out Emily's collection of patches and challenge coins.

Assistant Chief Nash Cox, on behalf of Company 4, presented Emily with a BVFD challenge coin, patch, t-shirt and a $100 Visa card.

Chief Cox stated, "We wanted to thank Emily for her accomplishment with #PositivePatrol. The gift card is to help with funds so she can continue her mission."

Emily's outreach is very evident on the #PositivePatrol Facebook timeline.

For example ... on July 3, Jamar Florence with the Halifax Police Department posted on Emily's #PositivePatrol timeline a photo of himself holding one of Emily's cards while seated in his police cruiser with the caption, "Still patrol with you every shift."

Other agencies have posted group photos with everyone holding the cards they received in the mail.

One of Emily's biggest fans, Sussex County Sheriff Earnest L. Giles Sr. commented, "Emily is an outstanding young lady in our community. She's an inspiration to all. Emily has a big, warm, kind heart, and we ... as adults ... should learn from her kind acts of reaching out to others.

"Emily came within helping our organization when experiencing the death of former Sheriff R.R. Bell. Since then, Emily has assisted us on all community events in which bring a positive note to our community," Sheriff Giles added.

In addition to her positive card campaign, Emily uses #PositivePatrol to bring awareness to other needs in the community such as "Move Over Awareness Month", animal shelter needs, stuffed animal drives to be used by law enforcement to comfort children experiencing traumatic situations, promote walks to raise funds for cancer research, etc.

Emily humbly shared, "I would like to take a moment and thank everyone for all the help and support. I'm so honored that you all believe in what I do. It is so awesome and amazing!"

Senator Amanda Chase is definitely a believer in what Emily is doing.

Senator Chase shared, "Emily Finchum's story of being bullied, her courage, and resilience to take a negative situation and turn it positive, impacting not just her community, but throughout the commonwealth, and around the globe, is inspiring."

The senator continued, "A letter she received from a bully, as a young girl with the message, "I'll kill you," prompted her to create #PositivePatrol. Because of the kindness of her resource officer during her time of being bullied, she wrote letters of love and thanks to law enforcement and first responders for their service to their community.

It reminds me of the verse, 'Love each other because love covers evil.' 1 Peter 4:8."

Chase said, "We all should take Emily's message of love, courage and appreciation and stand up to the bullies and the evil people of this world, showing love to one another. Emily's #PositivePatrol has encouraged more than 200,000 first responders and protectors of this great country.

"What an inspiration for us all to follow."

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©2019 The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va.

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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