As it celebrates its 40th anniversary, Safety Town is helping the Norman community in ways its founders never could have envisioned.
“We have noticed that children are now playing backseat drivers, telling their parents to get off their phones or telling them not to speed up through a yellow light,” Officer Thomas Zermeno said about graduates of the summer program that teaches 5- and 6-year-olds basic rules of the road.
The weeklong lessons, in which the Norman Police Department and Sooner Mall work to educate children in a miniature version of a city situated in the mall parking lot, has even become a tradition in some households. According to Officer Teddy Wilson, who coordinates Safety Town, the program is now training some third-generation students.
“Throughout the summer, we will have about 420 participate in the program,” Wilson said.
“We teach kids the rules of the road that they need to be safe,” Wilson continued. “We teach them things like signs and what they mean, as well as helmet safety.”
Among those involved when the program started in 1977, a major contribution came from Officer Lahoma Nelson. She was very involved with the buildup and success of the program until 2008 when she stepped away. She died in 2011 at 89.
Years later, Safety Town continues to have a huge impact on the community, even affecting some of the kids so much that they come back as volunteers.
“We get a lot of former students that come back to volunteer,” Wilson said. “They enjoy coming back and helping out.”
Ultimately, the part of the program that the officers appreciate is educating people about how to be safe on the road.
“If we teach one (person),” Zermeno said, “we teach 10.”
For more information about Safety Town, visit the event website.