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May 05

Cancer, you're under arrest

Posted on May 5, 2016 at 2:48 PM by V Rodriguez

Officer Simuro with kids at Fantasy Flight
Officer Brian Simuro and kids

It all began with a little girl. Soon after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, she came to the San José Police Department's headquarters on W. Mission Street to donate money she collected to help officers stay safe while taking on the bad guys. Officer Brian Simuro was struck by her kindness and generosity but, most of all, by her selflessness as this was a child who was battling leukemia at the time.

The encounter lit a fire within Brian, a cancer survivor himself. He wanted to let other children know that there can be life after cancer. He was diagnosed with cancer as a sophomore in high school, beat the disease, and went on to join the SJPD. In 2004, Brian founded the Cops Care Cancer Foundation, in San José.

Caley and police dog
Caley and police dog

“Brian has a passion for helping others and wanting to help kids,” shared Sgt. Jason Pierce, who oversees the Crime Prevention Unit and went to the Police Academy with Brian. “It’s a great program, drawing in officers and even command staff including police chiefs from neighboring jurisdictions. It’s a great opportunity for officers to remind ourselves why we put on the uniform and do what we do.”

The Foundation's mission is "to provide financial assistance to children and their families who have been stricken with cancer." Their signature event is the annual Christmas Fantasy Flight in which each child and their family is treated to a fun-filled adventure with a motorcade providing their transport to a much closer North Pole that has taken up residence inside an air hangar at Mineta San José International Airport. Even Santa hitches a ride with the police helicopter to deliver toys to every child. As Brian puts it, the event is one that's about providing "a day free of illness."

Santa arrives by SJPD helicopter
SJPD helicopter arriving with Santa

It's where children can be children. "For many families," Brian explained, "it's the one day that they get to see their kids smiling." The families' festive adventure begins at Juniper Networks in Sunnyvale where they are whisked away in a motorcade by police vehicles, limousines, military trucks, luxury buses and trucks. Upon arrival at the hangar, they walk the red carpet, getting shouts of approval from cheerleaders, special guest characters, police officers, firefighters and other volunteers.

Once inside, the smells of popcorn and cotton candy envelops the senses, letting these guests of honor know that they are far away from a hospital room and in a safe environment where they can let loose. There are carnival games, jumper houses, food, and individual photos with Santa Claus himself. There are also face painters, a DJ spinning tunes, and a photo booth to capture memories. Children and their families get to meet with local police officers, firefighters, police dogs, and special guests who they may recognize from TV.Whatever gift the child may have put on a wish list is magically found under the tree. Even the families are touched by the holiday spirit, with each one receiving financial assistance for their own holiday celebration.

Jason attended his first Fantasy Flight last month. “Police work is not all about arresting people. The program helps others in the community see police officers in another light. It builds relationships, and allows local families to find out firsthand that we’re regular people too and are having fun right alongside them.”

2013 Christmas Fantansy Flight
2013 Christmas Fantasy Flight

This past December, the Foundation's board, volunteers and community sponsors certainly did their part in making the ninth Fantasy Flight an unbelievable experience for all involved. A total of 150 kids from 68 Bay Area families participated, with 100 community volunteers and 150 Police and Fire volunteers making the dream experience come to life. The Foundation also turns to community organizations for support such as Sunnyvale Moose Lodge which donated and cooked all of the food. The support of local public safety agencies is impressive, with police officers and firefighters from San José, Fremont, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, San Francisco and the California Highway Patrol volunteering their time to make a difference in these families' lives.

"It's so powerful," described Brian. "The event takes a lot of work. It's donation-driven, and no one takes a salary who serves on the Foundation. It couldn't be done without everyone doing it for all the right reasons."

Brian’s been with the San José Police Department for 18 years. It’s a department and city he remains proud to be a part of. Although he’s on desk duty for the time being after suffering injuries while pursuing a suspect, Brian is committed to making a difference in our community, both as a police officer and as the founder/president of the Foundation which he does from the heart.

With a broad grin, Brian proclaimed, "Fantasy Flight is our pay day."

The Christmas Fantasy Flight will celebrate its 10th year this coming December. The holiday-themed event is for any child under age 18 who is battling cancer or any other life-threatening illness. The children's parents, grandparents and siblings can also attend.

As its slogan, "Help Us Arrest Cancer", suggests, the Cops Care Cancer Foundation is providing support to help kids in their battle against cancer throughout the year. The Foundation "provides financial donations and support to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital." These contributions "help fund social service programs for children, long term housing costs, prevention programs, research projects and a survivor’s scholarship program. In addition to financial donations, the directors donate their time to visit with the children and provide motivational presentations."

For the latest updates and call for volunteers, follow the Cops Care Cancer Foundation on Facebook.

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