Six-year-old Hailey Downing wants to be a police officer one day, and it’s all thanks to her “Auntie Theresa.”
When a classroom assignment required students to choose someone they were thankful for, Hailey chose Theresa Harper, a 15-year deputy of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, said Hailey’s mom and Harper’s best friend, Jessica Downing.
“[Theresa] is a fantastic role model for Hailey,” said Downing, who lives in McHenry. “Hailey actually wants to become a police officer when she grows up because of Auntie Theresa.
“She likes the idea of getting the bad guys, but primarily she wants to help people.”
That’s the example Harper sets for her daughter, Downing added.
From making deliveries of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to organizing a group of deputies for a photo shoot for a calendar fundraiser, Harper’s work for the sheriff’s office and for the community extends beyond her afternoon patrol shifts, Downing and other friends and family members said.
Harper, 37, is the “go-to” person when someone needs help with something – really, anything – said McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Aimee Knop, who has known Harper for years after Harper took her under her wing when Knop first moved to the area.
One service she’s particularly known for is going to check car seats for families throughout the county. Sometimes it’s during her shifts, but oftentimes she goes after hours when it’s convenient for the person who’s requesting the service.
She’s one of very few people at the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office who is certified to install and check car seats as a car seat safety technician, a title Harper said requires bi-annual certification. She’s been certified for nine years, since the time she spent working with the McHenry County Traffic Crash Investigation Unit.
“Basically, in an accident situation, if you’re in a child safety seat and if that seat is put in correctly, it’s the safest place in the vehicle,” Harper said. “If you go to a crash scene and you see a child safety seat that wasn’t put in correctly or wasn’t used at all, and there was a death involved, it’s going to hit you hard because it is something that could have been avoided if the seat was put in correctly and if the parents had been educated about it.”
Harper’s father, Mark Guerra of Cary, said her desire to serve stems from childhood, when she would sit and watch shows about police officers.
“She mostly loved watching people get rescued and watching people helping other people,” Guerra said.
In a field in which the daily duty could be anything from handling a fatal crash to responding to a domestic dispute, Harper said she’s always searching for the positives – little tasks or extra responsibilities that aim only to generate some good.
That’s what drives her to maintain her car-seat certification and her participation in as many charitable events as she can handle.
Recalling work she’s done over the years for the Polar Plunge, the Law Enforcement Torch Run, Shop with a Cop, among others, there was really only one moment for which she reluctantly took some credit.
It was a couple years back, and a woman in the community was looking for some help with a car seat. Harper found that the out-of-date seat needed to be replaced, but the woman couldn’t afford it, Harper said.
“At the time, we [the sheriff’s office] had a program, so I got her a new seat,” Harper said. “Then I actually put her on the list for a Christmas dinner that year.”
When it came time to celebrate her son’s birthday, the family received some duplicate gifts, which then were donated.
“She called me and told me that she gave back,” Harper said. “And it was all because we helped her out. That was really nice.”