Safety Can Be Fun

Safety Can Be Fun

Family Resource Center stages first Safety Fair.

Saturday evening’s Safety Fair at the Springfield-Franconia Family Resource Center Saturday evening brought together a wide variety of county, nonprofit and community organizations, much as the center itself does.

"There was a murder here not too long ago," said Jonathan Melendez, program coordinator for the Teen Services division of the county's Department of Community and Recreation Services, as he stood in the parking lot in front of Springfield Garden Apartments on Commerce Street, where the fair took place. "Then, we were passing by here, and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we did a take-back here?’" said Melendez.

"We decided we were going to bring all our partners together," said Torrey Piper, the division’s program manager, noting that Commerce Street is not well lighted and that children riding their bikes in the summertime need to know to wear helmets. "We want to make sure everyone knows about safety," she said.

The event included music, discussions, a moon bounce, a raffle, food catered by Baja Fresh, about 20 information booths and, after dark, a "safety walk" around the community with flashlights and reflectors.

The purpose of the safety walk, said Piper, was "to show ownership. We want residents to take some ownership and love the community."

Belinda Buescher, public information officer for the Fairfax County Department of Family Services, said children need summer activities to keep them out of trouble, which was why the Girl Scouts, for example, had a booth at the fair.

"The focus on safety is all about prevention, so it's not all directly safety-related," said Mary Phelps, program manager for Child Abuse Prevention in the Department of Family Services. However, she noted that some activities, such as an appearance by the Fire and Rescue Department and a talk on pedestrian safety by the Transportation Department, were more obviously related to the fair’s title.

"We need to present the face that we are a community that cares," said Rev. Jose Hoyos director of the Spanish Apostolate for the Diocese of Arlington. Likewise, he said, with the fair, "what Fairfax County is doing is giving the message that the government cares."

AS HUNDREDS of neighborhood residents, young and old but primarily Hispanic, looked on, Hoyos gave a talk in Spanish on personal responsibility. "I was telling people, ‘Don't lose hope,’" he said afterward. He said he had emphasized the importance of respecting the laws and taking care of one’s family. "Don't drink outside," he continued to recount. "Be a part of this society, and assimilate into the society."

Buescher said this was the first fair focusing on safety, but that the county stages such fairs regularly. "They're part of a general effort to build relationships and strengthen the community," she said. The Family Resource Center, which is housed in the Springfield Garden Apartments and overseen by the Department of Family Services, is in the business of community outreach. "We're open to everyone, but it's mostly the neighbors who come in," said Buescher.

The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board conducts weekly safety and prevention classes at the center, where it is also sponsoring a boys' club this summer. A free clinic, operated by a nurse practitioner and Northern Virginia Community College nursing students, is open on Wednesdays at the site.

Buescher said a primary mission of the center is education on parenting. Tips regarding discipline, safety, child care and health care resources are available in English and Spanish and will soon be translated into five or more other languages.

"All kinds of questions, anything that comes up in people's lives, they’ll come by here and ask," said Phelps, adding that this might include anything from tenant-landlord relations, health care or legal services.

"And it's nice that we’re here in the apartment complex, so we're really a part of the community," said Buescher.

The center is open on a drop-in basis weekdays from 8 a.m. until at least 4:30 p.m.