Mt. Juliet police Officer Anthony Allen knows what it’s like to grow up in an economically challenged family. He grew up in the projects in a little town in Florida.
He did without a lot.
“There was a lot of violence and drug activity,” he said.
He believes in his heart things could have turned bad for him if not for certain relationships he developed over the years during his youth. Local police officers took him under wing and guided him to help him overcome his circumstances.
“They reached out to me,” he said. “I hold a burden in my heart to do the same.”
Every day Allen drives the streets in the Mt. Juliet community and takes special care to get to know some of the local children, who, like he was, are challenged and less fortunate than others.
He’s made many friends over the past two years he’s been on the department. The children think of him as an older brother or uncle, but mostly someone they can depend on and talk to.
The “burden” on Allen’s heart has transformed into a backpack program he’s organized with city employee Sandy Dempsey and the local Girl Scouts.
A particular little boy he met who lives on Sports Road off Nonaville Road inspired him.
“Dillon is 7 years old,” Allen said quietly.
He reminds Allen of himself that age.
“He loves to interact with the police in the community,” said Allen, 26. “I realized there was a need for him and a lot of other children.”
Every time Dillon sees Allen, he shows him new tricks he’s learned on his bike.
On Monday, Allen delivered 30 backpacks to about 20 families, just in time for back to school. The Girl Scouts purchased 15 of the backpacks for Allen to disperse, and Allen kicked in much of the rest. Dempsey contacted local businesses and organizations to help fill the backpacks with back-to-school essentials.
Allen’s first stop, along with two officers, was Sports Road. Immediately two young boys ran up to his car. Blake and Paul grinned and joked around with Allen and when he opened the door to his patrol car loaded with backpacks, they scrambled to find the perfect one and both said a big thanks.
“This is so cool,” said Blake.
They sat on the ground, laughed and were surprised to find the packs full of school supplies.
Kaitlyn Osborne ran from her house up the road. She’s 16 years old and will be in 10th grade. She thought Allen was on one of his regular visits and was surprised when he told her to grab a backpack from his car.
“There’s some girl ones in there too,” he said with a laugh.
Osborne dragged out a purple bag and slung it on her shoulder.
“Anthony is just so cool,” she said
She said she’s gotten to know Allen and loves his presence in her neighborhood.
“He’s great, he brings us stuff,” she said.
Before Allen went to deliver the rest of the backpacks to several different areas in the community, he said he loved the children on Sports Road.
“They all have needs and desires to strive in life,” he said. “I know, it doesn’t matter what walk of life your from. From my personal experience, I know I felt like maybe I wouldn’t get the attention I needed. We are here to provide needs and services. Being a police officer is about serving and protecting, and serving is a huge part.”
He said the children he’s met have great ambitions.
“Some want to be engineers, music executives and police officers,” he said.
He was inspired to be a police officer from his tight relationships with officers when he was young.
Allen came to Tennessee to attend Cumberland University on a football scholarship. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice May 2010 and then attended the police academy. Before he came to the MJPD, he worked at the Wilson County Sherriff’s Office.
He’s married and his first child, Lia, was born five weeks ago
Lia’s dad was a bit disappointed when Dillon didn’t run up to his car during the first of many stops Monday afternoon. The kids told him he was with his dad.
“Well, you please make sure you give him this backpack,” said Allen as he handed Osborne a fancy backpack. “Tell him I’ll see him next time for sure.”