By Kelsey McKinney, Assistant Editor
Last week West Liberty University’s Campus Police was added to the list of Safe Places in Wheeling, offering youth a safe haven 24 hours, seven days a week if they are in a time of need. The University collaborated with the Social Work Club as well as several other social work students to establish the Safe Place program on campus.
Safe Place is a program through the Youth Service System Inc. that creates and trains local establishments to be a “safe place” for youth to enter during a time of distress such as, domestic violence, runaways, kidnapping etc. and stresses that youth come to a Safe Place for ANY situation. The programs associated with Safe Place are primarily targeted for teenagers (ages 12-18) and offer transitional housing, counseling etc. for those up to age 21. Overall, Safe Place/Youth Service System Inc. prides themselves on giving “kids an opportunity to ask for help,” said Safe Place Outreach Specialist, Sonja Jackson.
Thursday, April 19 Jackson trained several officers in Campus Police on Safe Place procedures. Jackson described WLU as the “perfect fit” for a Safe Place and stated, “the more sites we have, the more opportunity for kids. This gives them a place to go in their community if they need it.” Youth Service Systems Inc. also works closely with the Runaway Hotline and are trained in handling a variety of situations.
Lt. Thomas A. Hostutler of WLU Campus Police said Safe Place “is a worthwhile and wonderful program. Thank you to Sondra Jackson for giving us the opportunity to participate in the program. It’s important to be able to offer a safe location in a crisis situation for our students and the community.”
Campus Police as well as many other social work students have worked with Jackson before. “We have the relationship, we wanted to expand,” Jackson said concerning the official designation of the Safe Place. West Liberty joins other Safe Places in the Wheeling area including: the Ohio County Public Library, all OV/EORTA buses, Tim Horton’s restaurant, Dugger’s Market, all seven Wheeling Fire Department Stations, and Laughlin Memorial Chapel.
Personally, I think that Safe Place is a great program. In a world that grows more and more dangerous on a daily basis, Safe Place offers an escape for any child or adolescent who feels threatened at any point in time. Issues of domestic violence, assault, bullying, and neglect may be taboo topics in different environments, yet its avoidance does not mean these issues are not present. Everyone, especially the youth of our country, need to know that they are safe; it is a physiological need.
Safe Place, if nothing else, offers children hope; hope that they have a way out, hope that someone there will support them in a time of desperate need. Although a time of desperate need may never come, Safe Place is there as an insurance policy.
As far as West Liberty’s establishment as a Safe Place, I would say I am indifferent. By all means it is a great thing, especially due to our location. The next closest “Safe Place” is over 10 miles away. Designating West Liberty’s Campus Police a Safe Place destination allows the youth of this community relief in knowing that there is absolutely somewhere they can go in a time of need, most likely within walking distance, and can be represented properly. WLU is already highly involved in the community, and it is important that not only is this a place for fun, but a safe place as well.
On the other hand, not including the student population, approximately 1,500 people reside in the town of West Liberty, and, to serve these people, not only are there police officers on campus, but there is an elementary school and a fire/police station within a mile of one another.
From an outsider’s perspective, West Liberty, W.Va. is a very safe place. Although the youth of town should know that they have a designated spot to turn to in a time of need, I would hope that the youth of the town of West Liberty also feel that they can turn to their teachers and local police officers if they feel unsafe.
In no way am I questioning the necessity of a Safe Place, and it is only better that we have it here on campus, yet I would hope that this is not the only location where children of the immediate area can turn to.
Overall, the Safe Place designation is a very positive addition to West Liberty University. Everyone on a college campus should know that they are safe and in good company, and we are definitely making great strides to reach that point at WLU.