Sunday, July 01, 2001

Welcome, kids, to Safety Town

A friendly place to learn of a not-so-friendly world

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        UNION TOWNSHIP — The children arrive in the morning, just as shops open and the metal grating is being lifted from storefronts at Eastgate Mall. Fifteen of them, ages 3 to 5, with that open-face look of innocence.

        They are greeted by Union Township Police Officer Jim Brown, his weapon in holster at his hip, a police badge astride his belt.

        Welcome to Safety Town, the officer tells them.

[photo] Union Township Police Officer Jim Brown talks to a group of children about strangers, fire, swimming pools and guns at Safety Town.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        It is a storefront that's been turned into a tiny village at the mall, a place where young children learn about avoiding guns and fire, the difference between good and bad strangers, crossing the street safely, wearing seat belts, what the colors signify on traffic lights.

        “The mall has been great in making this available to us,” said Police Chief Tom Knox of the space provided. “Everything in here is child-friendly. The kids love it and they're learning while they're having fun.”

        The children visiting on this day are from Precious Resources Christian Day Care in Felicity, a facility that cares for about 40 children of working parents, said co-owner Karen Cornelison. They are dressed in blue T-shirts and each has a name tag, but it displays a phone number rather than their name. Marie Sharp, a teacher at the day care, asked about Safety Town following a shopping visit.

        Officer Brown talks to the children about guns. “Stop, don't touch, tell an adult,” he instructs them, then disappears and leaves the instruction up to McGruff, an interactive robotic police dog whose animation captivates the children. As do two other robots, a traffic light and school bus, both with faces and eyes that open and close.

        “Don't play with matches,” McGruff tells the children. And “don't run and hide” should there be a fire in your home. “The first thing you gotta do is get out of that house.” Don't play around a pool without an adult being there. Wear your seat belt. Wear a helmet when you ride your bike or tricycle.

        McGruff invites Bethany Perkins, 4, of Felicity, to join him in showing the children how to cross the miniature Safety Town street safely. Bethany shyly put her finger in her mouth and joined McGruff in looking both ways before crossing.

        Since Safety Town opened in 1997, about 3,000 children have visited each year. Most are preschoolers through the second grade.

        Dylan Emerson, 5, of Felicity, liked the school bus, and the twin message of not touching guns or matches. Timmy King, 5, of Felicity, was taken with the bus as well. “I like the way the eyes blink,” said Timmy.

        This group was fairly typical of the kinds of children that have been visiting Safety Town, said Officer Brown, who has been a police officer more than 30 years.

        “You don't have to live in Union Township (to make a reservation),” said Officer Brown. “You're part of the Union Township community when you're in the area.”


        Any groups wanting to make a reservation for Safety Town can call Officer Brown at 752-1230.


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- Welcome, kids, to Safety Town
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