With spring bursting upon the Mid-Ohio valley, there is an associated spirit of renewal that envelopes us all as we once again tend to our gardens, spruce up around the house, engage in spring cleaning and in general prepare to be outdoor people again.
 
As Rotarians, spring also reminds us that while we have the freedom to go shopping, make frequent visits to the grocery store, head to the beach and otherwise enjoy our lives, such is not the case for so many around the world.
 
Too many people, especially those in developing countries, are not guaranteed their next meal. They are also subject to disease while not benefitting from the medical care that we enjoy.
 
So, it makes us especially proud that through a global effort over 20 years that has put Rotary International out front, polio has nearly been wiped off the face of the earth.
 
But lest you think that Rotary’s good deeds are restricted to third world nations, you should also know that we Rotarians are also doing things every day to enrich the lives of those who live, work and play in our community.
 
One such program in which Rotarians are very involved is one that most parents of young school aged children are keenly aware – Safetytown.
 
While this program was not developed first in Marietta, the Marietta program has proven to be a model for many other communities, both near and far.
 
When Rotarians Sam Cook (former CEO of Broughton Foods and Washington County Commissioner) and Dr. Eugene Plummer were living in Upper Arlington (just outside of Columbus) back in the mid-70s, they jointly became aware of a Safetytown program being used by the local school system. Dr. Plummer immediately saw the benefits that such a safety education program could bring to young children. A few years later, in 1978, the first Safetytown was introduced in Marietta.
 
Three teachers taught the program which is geared to 5-year old students and they used the national program as their guide. The morning sessions served about 100 students that first year. Soon, the program grew as more and more parents appreciated the importance of the program as well as appreciating the cost (zero to the parents).
 
Cheryl Cook, Principal of Harmar Elementary School, took the helm as teacher/instructional director in 1979. The program grew to require four teachers in the second year as the size of the classes doubled to 200 students in just one year!
 
“I visited a program in Zanesville in those early years to make sure we were doing things right,” noted Cheryl Cook. “The program started initially focusing on pedestrian and fire safety but quickly grew to include many new topics including water safety, personal safety, play safety, safety around the house and neighborhood, safety with animals and much more.”
 
“It seems that almost every year, we add new topics to the program to make sure it is relevant to the ever-changing world we live in. Safety concerns today can be very different from safety concerns in 1978,” continued Ms. Cook.
 
An important outgrowth of the program is that it has become an essential part of these young students’ lives as proven by the fact that many middle and high school students come back to volunteer.  As the popularity of the program grew, other surrounding communities expressed an interest in duplicating what Marietta had done. As a result, Sam Cook and Cheryl met with organizers of other communities including Belpre, Warren, Beverly/Waterford, St. Mary’s and others to share the curriculum that has proven to be so successful in Marietta.
 
The Noon Rotary Club provides 100% of the funding for the project through Club donations, by soliciting generous donors and by establishing the Marietta Rotary Foundation.  The Noon Club members volunteer throughout the year, but are especially busy during the nine days of Safetytown setting up and taking down the “town,” serving snacks, helping with presentations and answering the call to any need that is required.
 
Colleen Cook, the daughter of Safetytown founder Sam Cook says, “My father would be so proud that after 42 years and over 7,000 students, we continue to provide important safety lessons to five and six year olds.  It is hard to quantify how many accidents we have prevented or how many lives we may have saved.”
 
Want to know how you can meet exceptional people doing exceptional things and “putting service above self”? Contact Marietta Noon Rotary and join us free of charge for an upcoming meeting.