Smart Start event introduces students to law enforcement, firefighters

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 15, 2014

If you’re a kid, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing a fire truck up close.
Dozens of children from local child care centers, Head Start programs and the community did just that Wednesday morning at a Community Helpers event sponsored by Smart Start Rowan. A variety of law enforcement vehicles parked side by side in the Kmart parking lot.
The entire community was invited, explained Mary Burridge, Smart Start’s Family Support Supervisor. “Of course, our target population is children 0 to 5.”
Also getting a look at the vehicles was a large group of families from Smart Start’s Parents as Teachers and Circle of Parents family support and outreach programs.
As far as the city’s youngest residents were concerned, the fire truck arrival was the morning’s main event.
Children from Livingstone’s Head Start program waited patiently in the shade before a fire engine from Spencer Fire Department pulled up.
One excited little boy started chanting, “Fire truck! Fire truck!” and other children soon joined in.
Standing nearby, Salisbury Police Detective Russell DeSantis took it all in stride. He was driving a plain, blue unmarked car.
“They all love the fire truck,” he said, shaking his head and grinning.
Next to DeSantis was a vehicle seized by the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, flashing with blue and white lights seemingly all over it.
DeSantis pronounced that vehicle as “snazzy.”
He did get some attention from Jayvion Torrence, 5, who attends the Livingstone program. The two engaged in a long conversation.
The Sheriff’s Office vehicle belonged to Deputy Jennifer Mason, a community resource officer, who was kept busy passing out stickers, coloring books and crayons — and letting little ones like Matthew Rohl, 4, sit in the driver’s seat.
“They love the car,” she said.
Dustin Tanner, a Spencer firefighter, showed off engine 751 and answered the children’s questions. And there were a lot of questions. The children were fascinated by a storage compartment on the side of the engine, as well as an oxygen tank Tanner pulled out from the vehicle’s cab.
Firefighter Todd Mitchell also answered his share of questions about the Salisbury Fire Department’s squad truck, which is used for medical calls.
The event was a multicultural event for Smart Start’s English-speaking and Spanish-speaking parent groups, said Clara Marts, who helps with coordination of Parents as Teachers and Circle of Parents.
“We’ve had lots of presentations recently,” she said, “so after so many presentations and education, we wanted to have some fun. This is a field trip for us.”
Next week, the groups will go bowling at Woodleaf Lanes, and wrap up the year June 11 with a family picnic, Marts said. “It’s been a good year.”
Margaret Velardo of Rockwell brought Bella Rose Desiato, her 4-year-old granddaughter, to meet the community helpers. She said she had read about the event in the paper but forgot to cut it out. Fortunately, she remembered the correct day and time, she said.
It was a fun event, but an event with a purpose, too.
“I wanted to have a meet-and-greet so that these children can know that law enforcement personnel are our friends,” Burridge said.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.