News & Stories

Assistant Police Chief Discusses Role of Sports in Public Safety, Life

As a kid growing up in Camden, Orlando Cuevas found friendship and family in sports.

“My teammates and coaches became an extended part of my family,” said Cuevas, who serves as Assistant Police Chief in the Camden County Police Department. “The relationships and lessons I learned translated to life.”

One of the biggest lessons, Cuevas said, was about the importance of role models and mentors, and the difference they can make in the life of a child.

It is a lesson that has stuck with Cuevas over the years and one of the many reasons he has chosen to volunteer for the newly formed Camden Health and Athletic Association.

The Camden Health and Athletic Association is dedicated to expanding health and athletic programs in Camden, with the goal of strengthening the community and keeping young people healthy and active.

The new organization is funded by The Cooper Foundation, the Norcross Foundation and AmeriHealth New Jersey.

Volunteers like Cuevas are participating as coaches, umpires, referees and mentors.

“I think this is a great opportunity for police officers and kids to interact in a positive way.” Cuevas said. “Building relationships with the community is one of the best approaches to public safety.”

Cuevas moved from Camden when he was in middle school, but returned to the city after he graduated high school with aspirations of becoming a police officer.

He was inspired by a friend’s father who was a sergeant and who always looked out for him and the other children on their block.

Cuevas, 47, was just 21 years old when he joined the police the force and started patrolling the streets where he grew up.

He knew all too well the challenges people were facing.

Out of the six guys who made up Cuevas’ tight-knit group of friends as a kid, three – including him – became police officers.

The three others died, victims of drugs and violence.

Cuevas credits sports with keeping him on the straight and narrow and recognizes the opportunities they opened up for him.

He specifically remembers a local tavern owner who would bring kids food if they were hungry and who would spend his own money to take him and his teammates to football and baseball games.

“My family never had money to go to sporting events or anything like that,” Cuevas said. “But because of this man I was exposed to a whole different world.”

Now, as a volunteer for the Camden Health and Athletic Association, Cuevas is committed to helping this generation of Camden children succeed just as others helped him.

“One of the greatest gifts is getting to mentor young people,” Cuevas said. “It’s a way of giving back.”

To learn more about the Camden Health and Athletic Association and how to get involved, visit https://foundation.cooperhealth.org/CHAA or call 856.583.2160.