Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski swears in Asher Vanderhovel, 7, as an honorary Sterling Heights police officer for the day Sept. 9.

Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski swears in Asher Vanderhovel, 7, as an honorary Sterling Heights police officer for the day Sept. 9.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Sterling Police Department grants boy’s wish to be officer for a day

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 21, 2021

 Sterling Heights police Officer Ken Mercer lifts Asher out of a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle.

Sterling Heights police Officer Ken Mercer lifts Asher out of a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Growing up, Asher Vanderhovel has admired police vehicles’ lights and sirens, as well as pop culture law enforcement role models such as Chase from “PAW Patrol” and Woody from “Toy Story.”

And on Sept. 9, Asher, 7, got his wish to be an honorary cop for a day, thanks to the Sterling Heights Police Department and The Rainbow Connection.

The Rainbow Connection is a Michigan nonprofit that grants wishes to kids who live in the state and whose medical conditions are life-threatening. According to the foundation, Asher was able to use the program due to having a life-threatening heart disorder that would normally jeopardize the chances of entering a career in police work someday due to the medical screening involved in becoming an officer.

The morning began when Asher arrived to the Police Department headquarters in a special police outfit. Chief Dale Dwojakowski swore Asher in as an honorary junior officer. Then the boy took a tour of the Police Department, and afterward, he received his own special police-themed mountain bike, complete with handlebar-activated sirens, donated by American Cycle and Fitness. Asher got to ride in police vehicles, including a patrol car and an armored vehicle. He got to use a pair of handcuffs and do a mock arrest.

He finished his morning by leaving Sterling Heights and going to Oakland County International Airport in Waterford to ride in an Oakland County Sheriff’s Office helicopter.

Dwojakowski explained that the SHPD has previously partnered with The Rainbow Connection’s annual summer picnic at Freedom Hill, though this is the first time his department has fulfilled a wish.

“So when Rainbow Connection reached out to us and said, ‘Can you make a little boy’s wish come true?’ we said, ‘Absolutely,’” Dwojakowski said. “So we pulled out all the stops today with our SWAT tank and our police vehicles and swearing him in.”

Ingrid Todt, a wish director at The Rainbow Connection, said her group’s preexisting relationship with the SHPD helped connect the dots immediately in fulfilling Asher’s passion for being a police officer.   

“Within moments, they created the most spectacular day today for Asher to just give him a moment that he needs during everything he has been going through and has gone through,” Todt said. “And it’s just phenomenal to see all these officers and personnel out here supporting him on this special day.”

Asher is a second grader at Webber Elementary School in Lake Orion. His mom, Jaime Vanderhovel, said her son has long been interested in cars, trucks and the police. She said she was speechless by the experience and how it delighted her son.

“The perma-grin is amazing today. Asher is always a smile kid,” she said. “He has just not stopped (smiling), which is fun to see your kid happy and having a good time.”

Dwojakowski said a police job is a “fantasy come true” for those who join the force.

“You can see it in (Asher’s) eyes, like, the wonderment, the awe of the equipment, the uniforms and all this stuff,” he said. “And to see a little boy be so fascinated by what we do for a living ... and we made him happy for this day or a memory that will literally be with him forever, it’s phenomenal.”

Dwojakowski said police officers often have to deal with people in their worst possible moments, so being with a boy who’s on cloud nine while living out his police dream is great for officers to see. The chief said he will remember Asher’s overwhelmed reaction as he came down the hallway while all the officers were in the room.

“I know that will stick with him forever,” Dwojakowski said. “In my career, there’s a few things that stick out, and this is one of them.”

Find out more about the Sterling Heights Police Department by visiting www.sterling-heights.net. Learn about The Rainbow Connection by visiting www.rainbow connection.org.

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