by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & et's say you're a 13-year-old girl and you're walking in your neighborhood. You hear someone yell something threatening or derogatory and you realize it's directed at you. Your heart starts pounding and you walk a little faster. Then you see your harasser is following you. What do you do? Volunteers of America suggests you look for a business, a fire station or a library with a diamond-shaped yellow and black sign that reads "Safe Place." You can duck in there and some caring adults will help you.
"We now have more than 100 sites [in Spokane]," says Lauren Steed, the Safe Place coordinator at Volunteers of America, which administers the program in Spokane and Kootenai counties. There are more than 60 participants in North Idaho.
Project Safe Place was developed in Louisville, Ky., in 1983 as a way to let the whole community show its concern for children. Kootenai County adopted the program in 1999 and Spokane took the plunge last year.
"It's not widely publicized yet [in Spokane]," says Steed. "We've been recruiting and training businesses and getting signs for everyone. Once that's all in place we'll do more focused outreach."
That will include going to schools and making presentations, "telling children that if you feel like you're in danger, go to one of those places," says VOA Executive Director Marilee Roloff.
The first Spokane business to become a "Safe Place" last year was American West Bank. The latest to sign up are Rosauers and Numerica Credit Union. The county's public libraries are all temporary shelters, as are the city and county fire stations.
"Fire stations are strategically located," says Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams. "They're good places for children to go when they need to feel safe."
"The first thing we do if someone comes in is we call dispatch to let them know we have someone who feels they need help," says Spokane Valley Fire Chief Mike Thompson. "Then we take that unit out of service until someone from VOA comes out to take control of the situation."
"When a child calls and we bring them to VOA, we have to contact their parent or guardian," says Steed. "Our point is to help a family with mediation and our overriding concern to keep children safe."
In the project's first year in Spokane, Steed says there were only a handful of cases of people seeking shelter. All turned out fine, although Steed says a woman who went to Holy Family Hospital needed to stay a night.
In Kootenai County, the Safe Places are used about a dozen times a year, says Roloff. "There's an anecdotal benefit," she says. "It gives kids a message that we care about you and we're taking responsibility for your safety."