MARIETTA - Thirty-five years ago a local program was launched to teach area youth how to stay safe around potential hazards like water, traffic and things found in their own households. Since then thousands of 5- and 6-year-olds have been through the annual Samuel R. Cook Safetytown course.
A 2012 Safetytown kick-off luncheon was held during Thursday's Marietta Noon Rotary Club meeting at the Lafayette Hotel.
"We try to picture the world through the eyes of a 5-year-old, and over the years that view is always changing," said Cheryl Cook, wife of the late Sam Cook for whom the program is now named.
Photo by Sam Shawver
Cheryl Cook, left, and Colleen Cook are co-chairs, with John Flannery, of this year’s Samuel R. Cook Safetytown, scheduled for June 18-28 at Harmar Elementary School. The 2012 Safetytown kick-off luncheon was held Thursday at Marietta’s Lafayette Hotel.
She said organizers try to add something new to the program every year.
"We're working in more information about weather safety this year," Cook said, noting children often like to play out in the rain, but that can be dangerous if thunder and lightning are present.
"We've also added lessons on protection against the sun and the importance of staying hydrated," she said.
Sam Cook and a local physician, Gene Plummer, began the Safetytown program through the Marietta Rotary Club in 1977.
Cheryl and daughter Colleen Cook have continued to help coordinate the program following Sam's death in 2011, and are co-chairs, with John Flannery, of this year's event.
"We figure there have been close to 7,000 children who have been through the program from the beginning. We have about 200 sign up every year, but it doesn't seem possible it's been going on for 35 years now," Colleen said, noting that children from both Marietta and Williamstown participate in the program at Harmar Elementary School.
She said her father and Plummer wanted to develop a long-term program that would benefit the entire community.
"And they wanted it to remain free of charge," Colleen added.
The program costs between $10,000 and $12,000 each year, and relies heavily on donations from the community. About 40 volunteers make the annual Safetytown happen.
"It's a good program. I've been volunteering for 19 years and next year will be my 20th," said local businessman Brooks Harper.
"He comes every year, takes photos of every child and gets them on their ID cards," Cheryl Cook said of Harper.
Andrea Arnold Eichhorn said she'll be teaching during this year's Safetytown.
"I went to Safetytown back in 1992, and volunteered to work in the program during high school," she said. "I'm now 25 and a teacher at Washington Elementary, but I still carry those lessons of Safetytown - if I'm ever in an unsafe situation, what should I do?"
Patrolman and D.A.R.E. Officer Pat Gragan with the Marietta Police Department has volunteered for several years with the Safetytown program.
"I really count it a privilege to work with these 5-year-olds for a couple of days," he said. "You can see the smiles and enthusiasm from these young kids. It's a big deal for them."
Gragan, who the children come to know as "Officer Pat," said he teaches children about police uniforms and what police officers do.
"And one of the first things they always ask is 'Can you tase me?'" he said, laughing. "They want to know all about the taser."
Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews was a member of the city fire department when the first Safetytown was held in 1977.
"I drove the first fire truck to the Safetytown program," he recalled. "It's been a great program for our community, and I've had children - and now grandchildren - who have attended Safetytown."
Cheryl Cook said the program depends on many agencies who volunteer their help, including the city police, fire and health departments.
She said Washington County Jobs and Family Services assists with bicycle safety day during Safetytown week, fitting each child with a bicycle helmet that he or she will take home.
In addition, Cheryl said Washington Electric Cooperative representatives teach the children about electrical safety, and local veterinarian Lori Lutz will talk about safety around pets.