Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope, it’s just Connie and Geno Wilkinson, your friendly neighborhood first responders. These are the people that get up every morning (which may start unexpectedly at 1 AM) and help keep Granite City a safe and better place, but in today’s world it’s not unusual to turn on the TV and see that yet another murder, robbery, or any other horrific crime has occurred. In these situations, a group of heroes like the Wilkinson’s show up and take control. What is it like being a first responder? What about your family? Kids? Why do you do it?

The answer is simple. Passion. For Connie it was easy. After 20 years, “I never wanted to be anything else, it was always a nurse, and I had like you’re wanna-be careers like an astronaut or like a choreographer for Janet Jackson, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen.”

For Geno, it’s a sign that childhood dreams can come true. 18 years later he’s still doing what he loves. “For me, it was a childhood dream. That’s all I ever wanted to be. I had the opportunity and I took it. Early on in my career I found it rewarding, but these days it’s a little tougher. There were two things I knew I wanted to do: I wanted to be a cop, and I love Kiss.”

You take an oath to first do no harm.”

— Connie Wilkinson

While interviewing the Wilkinson family it became clear that the family is huge. In response to that I asked if their careers interfered with family time. They all laughed. “Dinner is never on time, there is no such thing as a birthday or holiday, we work every holiday and weekend.”

The Wilkinsons knew going into the job that this was the sacrifice. They miss many of the kids’ sporting events, plays, concerts, etc. Schedules are not flexible. But when the Wilkinsons are free they make the most of family time.

In today’s climate first responders are lowly respected, and this makes the job of a first responder tougher. Why? They save our lives and keep us protected, so why is it like this? Recently, I attended an anti-Trump Rally for a different GHW project, and police were everywhere. Towards the end as I was taking pictures we were crossing a busy street and an officer was standing there to block traffic and let us pass, I stopped and told him that I appreciated everything that he was doing and stuck my hand out to shake his hand. At that moment I realized how dangerous the world really is. The officer looked down at my hand, then just stood there and looked me straight in the eyes and said “go along” as he motioned me to leave.

“Hesitant, not scared, but it (lack of respect) definitely makes the job tougher, knowing that there’s people out there that hate me because of what I do, not who I am.” Says Geno.

“I think it falls back on the parents, and with social media everything gets around so fast and it ends up being a game of telephone.” said Connie. Connie grew up in a military/police family, and she was brought up to believe that if an officer told you to jump you said “how high?”

You did not question authority, and that’s what kids today seem to be doing. “It’s a learned trait, like racism, a child is not born with hate, they have to see the hate, it’s a learned environment”

But what’s it like being a kid in the craziness of this world? Marley, Gabby, and Tyson Wilkinson are simply scared. Gabby says ”You make sure you say I love you every morning, because you never know if that’s the last time you will ever see them.”

Tyson, the youngest, couldn’t say anything. He just started to tear up. The oldest, Marley, said “When you see it on TV, like the Michael Brown shooting or the Dallas shooting, it affects you but it doesn’t. But when stuff like when Officer Blake Snyder got shot down that hits home because it reminds us that it could happen here. And it scares me.” Yes, that thought is scary, wondering if your parents are going to come home everyday. Geno usually gets off a shift at 11pm and if he’s not home by the usual time, the kids blow up his phone.

We can learn a lot from the Wilkinsons, about sacrificing themselves to make sure that you are safe, about doing what you love no matter what the struggle may be. You truly know you’re doing what you love when you’re asked if you could go back and change anything and you answer no. It’s people like the Wilkinsons that do the world good and show that there is some light in the dark of the world. “You take an oath to first do no harm” and that’s exactly what they do. Thank you first responders for your service to this country