Down memory lane

More than 7,000 eager young learners have graduated from Marietta’s annual Samuel R. Cook Safetytown course since it began in 1978.

The program, which teaches 5-and-6-year-old children how to stay safe around potential hazards using fun, interactive lessons, is now gearing up to welcome 200 more students for the 36th annual event, which starts Monday.

Event organizers shared their memories and experiences with the program Monday during a kick-off luncheon held by the Marietta Noon Rotary Club.

“(The Rotary Club) does a lot of great programs, but I really do believe Safetytown is the program that affects the most people,” said Cheryl Cook, wife of the program’s namesake, the late Sam Cook.

The nine-day summer program covers a variety of topics. Among other things the program teaches children how to stay safe around water, near traffic, during inclement weather, and while riding in the car, said Cheryl Cook.

In fact, the program typically leaves such a lasting impression on its young graduates that many of them return to be volunteers or even teachers, she said.

Alison Woods, 31, of Marietta, is returning for her third year of being a Safetytown teacher.

Woods is also a kindergarten teacher at Harmar Elementary School, where the annual event is held.

“I enjoy it because I get to meet a lot of my incoming kindergartners. It helps them become more familiar with the school and they’ll know a friendly face when they come in the fall,” said Woods.

Also a teacher at Harmar Elementary, Kathi Carr, 53, of Marietta, will be returning for her 10th year of teaching.

“I just enjoy the enthusiasm of the kids. There’s really something every day that they love,” said Carr.

As always, the safety training program remains free to participants and focuses on a different safety topic every day, said Colleen Cook, daughter of the event founder.

One day will feature various law enforcement officers who will let the children inspect their uniforms and vehicles.

“It’s good for our kids to know that these are people you can go to for help,” said Cheryl Cook.

Also a Safetytown graduate, registered nurse Jonni Tucker with the Marietta Health Department will teach things such as children’s first-aid and car and bicycle safety. Tucker will help fit each participant with a bicycle helmet that is his or hers to keep, she said.

“As a teen I volunteered. This will be my 12th year helping. When my daughter was old enough, I sent her too. I’ve been in about every aspect of Safetytown,” said Tucker.

One rewarding experience is when a friend stopped her and said that she had gotten a booster seat at her daughter’s insistence.

“I said ‘That’s good. She’s listening,'” recalled Tucker.

It is the dedicated help of volunteers and the generosity of the community that has helped the program be offered free of charge for so long, said Colleen Cook.

The program, which costs around $12,000 annually, is mostly funded through a Safetytown trust comprised of donations.

Since its beginnings, Marietta Safetytown organizers have helped the program branch out into other communities including Belpre, Beverly, Warren and St. Marys, W.Va., said Cheryl Cook.

Safetytown starts Monday and continues through June 27. The deadline for enrollment has passed, but general information about the program is available by calling 373-6510.