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Volunteers sought to monitor bus stops

A program's success in Rainbow Village has encouraged the Sheriff's Office to try to expand it to Greater Ridgecrest.

The boy was a powder keg of emotions. He was still grieving over a death in his family when classmates, unaware of his pain, began what they thought was harmless teasing.

Instead, they lit a fuse that caused the teenager to nearly explode one November morning last year at a school bus stop in the Rainbow Village apartments.

"He didn't give a darn about anything else," said Gwendolyn Miller, 40, who watched the scene unfold. "He was uptight."

But Miller, who had been at that bus stop each morning and afternoon since the school year started, persuaded the boy to walk away.

In past years, community policing officers would have been the first adults on the scene; breaking up the fight and either taking the children to school or to their parents. Last year, Sheriff's Cpl. Chris Laughlin searched for volunteers, such as Miller, to hang out at the bus stops in Rainbow Village, a county housing complex, to alert deputies to situations getting out of control.

The program, the first of its kind in Pinellas County, was such a success it is being expanded into the Greater Ridgecrest neighborhood. The Sheriff's Office is looking for about 50 volunteers to monitor the bus stops in the Greater Ridgecrest area.

Anyone thinking of volunteering can get more information at a Back to School Festival scheduled Friday afternoon at the Omni Center, 1801 119th St. N.

Volunteers must be able to wait at the bus stops in the morning when students are picked up or in the afternoon when the children are dropped off.

"I thought it went very well," said Laughlin. "The parents were happy with it. I think it's going to expand to other community policing sites."

All volunteers will have cellular telephones, donated by GTE, programmed to dial 911 in case of an emergency. They also will have T-shirts, sweat shirts, rain gear and flashlights purchased with a $4,000 grant from the county's Juvenile Welfare Board.

Laughlin said before the volunteer program started, he was breaking up fights at least once a week at the bus stops in Rainbow Village. But last year, because of the presence of the volunteers, he had to make just two trips to bus stops there.

Some of those who volunteered last year attribute the program's success to the rapport between volunteers and the children, many of whom are their parents.

"The idea that a parent is out there makes (the kids) feel real good," said volunteer Martha Gray, whose son and two grandsons ride the bus.

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