Mark Garton, Polk County Sheriff and Volunteer Soccer Coach, made the choice to live and work where he has always lived.
His explanation tells the story, “ I don’t want to go anywhere else. This is where I want to be. This is my community.”
The experience of growing up in the area was defined by the power of connection and partnership through playing basketball and soccer as well as other sports, including golfing and bowling. Certainly it gives credence to the belief that if we are surrounded with good people who serve, then we have the desire to honor them by doing the same. And, it gives understanding to why Garton has the passion to give back to the community. His experience tells the story of how the individuals who serve others are foundational to the strength of the community from one generation to the next, fostering the sense of belonging and resilience with immediate and long-term benefits.
Garten summed it up, “Active participation makes the community better.”
Garton is impacting the next generation by volunteering as a soccer coach to youth, giving them an opportunity to see what it means to contribute as a volunteer and to understand the importance of giving back. When his two sons began playing sports, Garton made the decision to participate with their team as a coach. He has continued volunteering as a coach, giving him a position to positively connect, teach, train, and inspire kids. Garton not only works alongside the youth, but also with other coaches, planning ways for the kids to learn skills, practice teamwork, and develop sportsmanship. While it requires more of his time to plan and coordinate ways for the team members to remain motivated, to learn, and to grow in their skills, he emphasized it’s crucial to be prepared to help kids build skills that impact them for life.
Garton explained this proactive approach by saying, “When we show up . . . we have warmed up ahead of time . . . every coach knows what we are going to do when they get to practice.”
As a volunteer coach, Garten is able to provide an avenue for kids to develop coping skills and to build trust in the individuals who are committed to serve them on and off the field. Garton discussed how participation in sports built character and drive in his life and is an important part of why he coaches. With the backdrop of his team practicing, he explained, “It’s kind of satisfying to see someone really just mature and grow up to be a good well-rounded kid with good values. You can come out here and you can interact with normal people, normal kids, (and) just have fun.”
When you get down to it, the value of fun can easily be missed in today’s current challenging circumstances. Of course, there’s more. Garton emphasized the value of playing a sport is found when kids, coaches, family, and friends come together to watch and play the sport.
He says, “We really focus on the community and interacting with the community, not just with law enforcement. We encourage them (staff) to go out and do things, coaching sports or coaching soccer. I like people to know that law enforcement officers, regardless of where they’re from, are people. We are about focusing on trying to make our communities better and safer . . . Sometimes people lose sight of this and see us as a kind of (a) strong arm of the government, so to speak, and they’re enforcing the laws that other people put upon us to go and enforce. So . . . we try to work with the community we have and interact with them to build that trust.”
Volunteering as a youth soccer coach produces a perspective of the significant matters of life on the job and during “off-hours.” The thing is . . . sports help the community to move in the same direction . . . forming a positive mindset. This gives insight to Garton’s enthusiasm for coaching kids and connecting with their families. His enthusiasm is an important part of his commitment to serve and give back to the community.
The way Garton and other law enforcement officers volunteer holds the potential to impact and inspire the members of their communities to do the same.
Garton states, “What draws a lot of people into law-enforcement is to give back to the community one way or the other and it’s just one way that we can do it here.”
Volunteering is Sheriff Garton’s story. He applied and received the position of a Volunteer Cadet after high school graduation in Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
“It was during that volunteer program when I learned that I had the passion and drive to enter the field of law enforcement.”
Eventually, he volunteered as a Reserve Deputy and worked in different positions. When he began working as a Corrections Deputy he volunteered his time to be a reserve officer with the Dallas Police Department to serve the community. So many people want to volunteer, but they don’t know where to start or what to do. Sheriff Garten has demonstrated the value of the simple act of starting in the place where an individual is at with what an individual is able to do.
As sheriff, Garten oversees the Sheriff’s Office volunteers and has the opportunity to encourage community members to join, serve, and protect through volunteering with the Sheriff’s Auxiliary & Law Enforcement Team (SALT), Reserve Deputies, Search and Rescue, Posse, Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES), and Cold Case, as well as other opportunities. In turn, the volunteers who serve with Sheriff Garton have the opportunity to contribute to their community.
In addition to his faithful volunteerism and overseeing volunteers, Sheriff Garton has worked for the Polk County Sheriff’s office for over twenty years. As Polk County Sheriff, Garton has made the commitment to serve on and off the job; of which gives insight to who he is and what he does. Clearly, the community continues to benefit from the individuals who served Garton in his youth as well as from his service to the community. It has and is making a difference from generation to generation, leaving a lasting legacy.