MEXICO – A new program aimed at young people who want to learn about police work while gaining leadership, community service and career building skills is set to start by the end of February.

When it does, it will be the first of its kind in Oxford County.

The Mexico Police Department is sponsoring the Learning for Life Character Education Explorer Program for young men and women ages 14-20 living in any River Valley town.

“This is for the betterment of the children and the community,” said police Chief Jim Theriault on Monday afternoon. “It will help the youth and help the police department. With all of us working together, this will make a better community. It’s a win-win situation.”

The Explorer program is a national program that is already involved with the junior firefighters’ groups in the Mexico Fire Department and Rumford Fire Department. Other police-oriented youth groups in Maine include those in Waterville, Bridgton, Biddeford, Saco and Winthrop, said Michael Dyer, Learning for Life senior district executive for the Pine Tree Council Explorer program. He is based in Portland.

The Mexico Police Department is looking for young people who are interested, as well as for parents and community leaders who would like to get involved.

Planned is a meeting of Mexico law enforcement personnel and community members sometime in the next couple of weeks. Once the police and others meet, an open house will be scheduled.

Theriault hopes to begin monthly meetings with youngsters by the end of February.

Dyer said participants will get a broad view of law enforcement by introducing them to public safety, the Border Patrol, FBI, CIA, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Marine patrol, warden service and other police-related organizations. Youngsters may also take part in the youth version of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, as well as participate in community service projects.

Police Sgt. Roy Hodgdon encouraged the establishment of a local youth group so that more young people can gain mentors, learn to respect the police and to give them something important to do.

Members of the Mexico Police Department will volunteer their time with the group.

“We hope to have at least a dozen young men and women,” Hodgdon said.

Theriault said his department will pay the $20 chapter fee. Annual dues for young people are $7.

Dyer said a similar youth group in Jackman may visit the new group as soon as it is established.

He said the Explorer program is also looking into other fields, such as engineering, medical, and business to offer similar programs.

Area youth who want to sign up for the Law Enforcement Explorer program, or adults who want to help get them started may phone Theriault at the Mexico Police Department at 364-5686.