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Minister calls on group to help SOS



Published: Thu, April 25, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Flashing porch lights and donated old cell phones reprogrammed to dial 911 will help Save Our Seniors.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The Rev. Alfred Coward saw in the news the story of some elderly South Side residents seriously beaten by young robbers.

If those victims had an easy way to summon help, he thought, maybe the situation wouldn't have turned out so bad.

Then, some older members of his church were confronted and threatened while driving. If they had a quick way to summon police, maybe the situation wouldn't have turned so serious, the Rev. Mr. Coward thought.

Flashing porch lights and old cell phones reprogrammed to dial 911 were his next thoughts.

That's the genesis of Save Our Seniors, an effort by the Mayor's Task Force on Crime and Violence Prevention.

What's being requested

Mr. Coward, the task force chairman, is asking the South Side Weed and Seed -- a crime prevention and neighborhood restoration group -- to buy 100 of the flashing beacons. He thinks the group will approve the move. If that group doesn't, he will find another that will.

Block watch leaders would distribute the bulbs to older residents.

The 60-watt bulbs act normal when you flip the switch once.

Flick the switch a couple times, however, and the bulbs flash. Blinking lights tell neighbors that somebody needs help and makes it easier for police, fire and ambulance crews to find an emergency, Mr. Coward said.

Safety Think Inc., the manufacturer, charges $9.95 each, or $7.95 each on orders exceeding 100. The bulbs are supposed to last 2,000 hours and can be seen 125 feet away in daylight, according to the company's Web site at www.safetythink.com/.

"When you see this blinking, it means 'I'm in dire distress or I need somebody to check on me,'" Mr. Coward said.

Maybe that flashing light could have kept the elderly people from being badly beaten, he said.

Calling for help

Then, there are the old cell phones.

The task force, through Mr. Coward, is collecting old phones. The units are reprogrammed by Alltel to dial only 911.

The task force will come up with a list of criteria for distributing the phones.

Mr. Coward wants them to go to older people, too. They can keep the phones near them in the home, in case they fall, and take them in the car in case there's a serious problem, he said.

The threats against his parishioners may have been short-circuited if they had been able to summon police immediately, he said.

The task force's function is to be a solution, Mr. Coward said, and Save Our Seniors is another way to do that.

Donations of old cell phones can be made by calling Mr. Coward's office at (330) 747-4445 or dropping the phone off at his church, Mount Calvary Pentecostal Church on Oak Hill Avenue.

rgsmith@vindy.com




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