Hamilton’s Safety Town: 50 years of showing kids how to stay safe

In Officer Bob Gentry’s last year leading Safety Town, he told Officer Kristy Collins that she needed to get her daughter out as a counselor.

Collins recalled telling the man everyone called Officer Bob that she was only 6 years old at the time. Officer Bob didn’t care, and said he brought his young granddaughters out to help run the program.

Officer Bob died not long after that in 2012. He ran Safety Town ever since he started it in 1972 through the Greater Hamilton Safety Council. Collins was named Officer Bob’s successor, and with her predecessor’s voice in her head brought on her then 7-year-old daughter, Madison Collins, as a counselor.

And 2013 was also the same year when the city renamed the park Safety Town operates from Powerhouse Park to Officer Bob Gentry Park.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Madison in the early days was the Safety Town participant’s big sister, being roughly twice the age of its participants. She would have line-leading duties and do small jobs, her mother said. Now, at 17, if it came down to it, could lead the program.

“I just fell in love with the program,” Madison said as to why she continued to be a counselor. “All the kids are just great. Just being able to teach kids and hearing them tell us, ‘I remembered to look both ways crossing the street because you guys taught me that.’”

Ava Ramsey, 14, of Hamilton, was a Safety Town kid and is now a counselor. She was in Officer Bob’s last Safety Town class and in Collins’ first. She had cousins in the class after her, and her mom ― who was also taught by Collins, but in her third-grade seatbelt safety class ― wanted Ramsey to be a counselor.

“I knew what to do and how to help the kids,” said the 14-year-old.

Ava has plans to be a sports medicine physical therapist and could be working with younger children, so being a counselor in Safety Town will allow her to learn patience in working with children.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The impact Safety Town has had on the community over the past 50 years is “immeasurable,” Collins said.

“Anything you can give the kids regarding safety helps,” she said.

Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit says Safety Town is an iconic summer program in the community.

“Other communities have visited and studied the program looking to adopt something similar,” he said. “I tell them it takes a lot of time, a lot of work, and a lot of people to have a successful program. But to have a really special program it takes a really special person and over the years we’ve been blessed with two —Officer Bob and Officer Collins. Together they have touched thousands of lives and inspired generations of young people with their lessons on safety.”

Hamilton Executive Director of Public Safety Scott Scrimizzi was police chief when Officer Bob died, and is “extremely proud” of Collins and her work at Safety Town.

“Selecting Officer Collins to continue the legacy at Safety Town was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” he said. “She was a natural and would have been Officer Bob’s choice.”

Celebrating the program a half-century after it was created “is a testament” to Safety Town, as well as to Officer Bob, Scrimizzi said.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

“Children that attended the program as a child are now bringing their children and grandchildren to the program which is nothing short of amazing,” he said.

Collins was never formally trained to take over Safety Town, and said, “thank goodness (Officer Bob’s) granddaughters’ were here,” who helped her recreate his lesson plans, a document she carries to this day.

Safety Town teaches kids basic life lessons around stranger danger, gun safety (as in don’t touch them and tell an adult if they find one), what to do when there’s a fire in the home, animal safety, and traffic safety. Some of the new things Collins has added includes summer safety tips, such as the importance of staying hydrated and basic pool and swimming safety.

Collins said she plans to lead this program for “as long as I can.”

“I can retire any day, and this is my favorite part of my job, just seeing the smiling faces every day,” she said.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

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