Todd Ritchie, Lance Morrison, Chris Skeens, and Dee Scritchfield with the We Care Safe Schools Initiative were the guest speakers at the weekly Rotary meeting on Wednesday.
Ritchie discussed several school shootings that have occurred over the last few years in the United States. He voiced his concern regarding these travesties and what caused them.
“If we think it’s going to go away, it’s not,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie played some clips from interviews done after school shootings, the one thing that is always said by students is, “no one is listening to us, we knew this was going to happen but nobody cares.”
Ritchie said this struck a cord with him and he knew then that something has to happen, something needs to change to prevent these types of situations.
“It was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Ritchie said. “Within the next week, we had organized and had a session over at First Church in Ravenswood with 125 people from the community who responded.”
Originally named “Not here, We Care,” was changed to just “We Care” because these types of scenarios can happen anywhere Ritchie said.
We Care is compelled to try to make a difference.
“It starts with our youth, they are the center of all of our efforts, and it’s the security and support that we provide them,” Ritchie said.
Ravenswood Chief of Police Lance Morrison credited Blaine Hess for starting the Jackson County School Safety Committee not long after the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting.
Morrison went to every school in the jurisdiction, including Heritage Christian Academy, and put together a pamphlet of every issue he found in each and every school and a plan to fix it.
“I thought this was a great thing,” Morrison said. “What we found was there was not enough money or the fire marshall wouldn’t let us do it, which was very upsetting.”
Morrison was upset with the excuses he was being given and knew it was time to do something about it. He heard about the We Care meeting and decided to attend.
After much research, Morrison found a film that could be purchased and put on windows that although bullets would penetrate the glass, it would not shatter allowing a gunman to break through so easily.
Most school shootings are over in a matter of 2-4 minutes. Some schools in the Jackson County area can take up to 17 minutes for law enforcement to get to.
“When you talk about response to schools, you’re talking about time,” Morrison said. “The goal is to slow them down allowing law enforcement time to respond.”
Morrison pitched his idea to We Care and “that’s when things took off.”
The fire marshall has now signed off on some plans that were suggested to help secure classrooms including a special door stop that would allow a classroom teacher to shut their door in an emergency situation from the inside that would keep anyone trying to get in, out. The only way to get in the room would be through a special under-the-door device that only law enforcement would carry.
The door stops are approximately $60-$70 each and there are around 600 classrooms in Jackson County schools. We Care is making it a priority to obtain one for every classroom as soon as possible.
Through the assistance of Steve Westfall, Jackson County will be one of the first counties to implement a system where each classroom teacher will have a device that can be triggered if issues arise that will send a message to a central location indicating help is needed.
Pastor Chris Skeens spoke on the faith-based efforts of the group. He stated that there are three ways they have asked pastors and churches to be involved with the We Care group. They are encouraged to pray, to mentor, and financially support the program.
“All churches have retired educators or people who have worked in the school system in some way,” Skeens said. “We are giving them the opportunity to become approved volunteers through the Board of Education so they can go in to schools and participate in a mentorship.”
Skeens said it would not be an academic mentorship, but more of a friendship, someone, an adult, who is there to show support or to provide the students with a smiling face and physical presence to let them know someone cares.
Ritchie noted that Young Life is another group they have worked with through We Care that is becoming very active in Jackson County with clubs functioning in both Ravenswood and Ripley. This groups helps identify young leaders and focuses on kids that need help from a leadership stand point.
The Young Life mission is to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and help them grown in their faith.
“Young Life focuses not on the popular kids, but kids on the edge, the ones like the perpetrators from the recent events,” Ritchie said. “They advocate gaining relationships with children who need support.”
Last year the We Care program was able to help underwrite the cost for sending 30 kids to a camp in Rockbridge, Virginia that is owned and operated by Young Life. Ritchie’s step-son was able to attend and felt it was one of the best experiences of his life.
“What is neat about the Young Life model is that they are reaching out to the unchurched,” Skeens said. “I think that is great.”
“Young Life is currently building a 35 million dollar facility near Fayetteville in West Virginia,” Ritchie said. “It will provide more opportunities to reach kids that may need the extra support and that is exciting.”
We Care is now working toward getting the resources to help fund some of the projects needed in the Jackson County school systems.
They have received donations from several groups and just recently they received a large donation from Constellium to help in their efforts to provide children with a safe and secure school system.
Business owners will soon receive a challenge letter from Constellium, challenging them to donate to the We Care program.
“$100 will secure a door with however many kids and staff are behind that,” Dee Scritchfield said. “We need to get involved, prevention, intervention, and response, school safety is everyones responsibility.”
We Care will be having another meeting sometime before school starts up again. They encourage everyone to pray, donate, or do whatever they can to help them keep Jackson County kids safe.
“This organization has made leaps and bounds that I never thought would happen,” Morrison said. “It’s worth its weight in gold and it’s important that the professional people in this county know and are aware that this group is making an assertive effort to protect our kids. Who else is going to if we don’t.”
To make a donation to the We Care campaign, make checks payable to the Jackson County Community Foundation with We Care on the memo line. For more information contact Dee Scritchfield at Dscritchfieldwv@gmail.com or visit them on Facebook.
In other business:
• The Jackson General Hospital Golf Classic will be on June 22 at Greenhills Country Club.
• The Community Health Fair saw over 283 patients and made a total of $2,262 for the Ripley Rotary to add to the Adopt-a-Family program.