Officer Matt Fletcher of the Naperville Police Department is inspiring generations of children in the Illinois town through storytime events at the city’s three libraries.
Fletcher, an unmistakable figure at 6 feet 4 inches and 300 pounds, is known for showing up to the Naper Boulevard Library in his squad car, and going above and beyond to capture the hearts of children.
Fletcher not only reads stories to kids, but engages them in songs, activities and even provides tours of his squad car, all with the goal of teaching safety to kids and making police officers more approachable and accessible.
Up to 200 parents and children eagerly participate in these events, scheduled several times a year at the Naper Boulevard, Nichols and 95th Street libraries. For Officer Fletcher, who has served as a police officer for 29 years, these storytime events have become one of the most fulfilling aspects of his job.
“It’s a very positive event for the kids and the parents. Unfortunately, in this day and age, a lot of police contacts are negative. It’s nice to have that contact and be a positive part of the community,” Fletcher shared.
The storytime tradition began in 2003 when library officials asked Officer Fletcher to help with a parking problem at the Nichols location.
By the end of the day, he had signed up for storytime, which soon evolved into regular visits to all three libraries. Officer Fletcher meticulously plans his storytime schedule months in advance, earning a permanent spot on the library’s calendar of events.
Officer Fletcher has been reading to children for so long that some of the youngsters he read to 20 years ago are now bringing their own children to his storytime sessions.
In recognition of his exceptional commitment, Naperville Police Chief Jason Arres recently honored him with a Meritorious Service Award.
“Not only does it cover the extremely important topics of reading and safety, but it also teaches kids that police are a trusted part of society they can go to for help when they need it. Acts like this don’t often get fanfare, but they’re hugely impactful,” Chief Arres said.
One of the most special moments during these storytime sessions is when Officer Fletcher reads Officer Buckle and Gloria, a children’s story loosely based on former Naperville mayor and police officer Arthur George Pradel.
He has read the book so many times that he has worn out several copies and even purchased a backup copy on eBay when it went out of print.
Ellen Fitzgerald, the Nichols Library children’s services supervisor, spoke on the importance of Fletcher’s volunteering work.
“Officer Fletcher takes time to make sure each child gets a chance to see his cruiser and has a positive experience. It’s important for kids to understand that police are community helpers and a safe person to turn to when they are in a scary situation.”
Officer Fletcher’s commitment to the community extends beyond storytime. He and his wife, fellow Naperville police officer Dawn Fletcher, brought six children to their marriage a decade ago, making them experts in the world of children’s activities. The couple used to volunteer as reading mentors at Mill Street Elementary School.
Looking ahead, Officer Fletcher knows that his storytime days will eventually come to an end as he inches closer to retirement. However, he remains hopeful that other officers will step in to continue this heartwarming tradition.
“It’s an hour out of my day, and it’s so worth it. I get the biggest kick out of it,” Fletcher said.
Officer Fletcher’s upcoming storytime appearances are on October 6 at the 95th Street Library and October 20 at Nichols Library, both starting at 10:30 a.m. and lasting about 45 minutes.