Reid Saul, of the Albemarle County Sherriff’s Department, is the perfect picture of the friendly public safety officer. With a smile as big as his laugh, and a heart to match, Sherriff Reid has been volunteering his time for almost 4 years helping keep VIA students safe.
Project Lifesaver is a program that provides first responders across the country with locator bracelets. The bracelets are used to track individuals who, because of dementia or developmental disability, may be at risk of wandering away from safety.
The bracelets are not free, and they require periodic battery replacement and servicing. For James C. Hormel School students who receive free or reduced lunch, VIA covers the cost of the bracelets. Then Sherriff Reid shows up at JCH every month to visit with the students, replace batteries, and make sure the bracelets are working properly.
“I’m a volunteering kind of guy,” says Reid. “I’ve built up a good relationship with the kids here. For me, this is very personal, because I have a child on the spectrum.”
“Every time a new student comes to VIA, we ask if there’s a risk of wandering,” says Family Resource Navigator Hilary Nagel, “and we sign them up for Project Lifesaver if there is.”
Wandering, also called “elopement,” is common among people with autism. By some estimates, nearly half of children on the spectrum attempt to elope. It is a significant cause of anxiety for families, who must constantly be on guard-day and night-against their loved ones disappearing.
“The service that Reid provides is a great gift to our families,” says Nagel. “Project Lifesaver really does keep kids safer. And If he didn’t come by every month, the families would have to add it to their schedule and take care of it themselves, which, when you have kids with autism can be a real challenge.”
“And not only that,” she adds, “he’s a friendly face in uniform for the kids to get to know. The students just love him.”
[For more information on autism and elopement, the National Autism Association has a fact page on autism and safety with good information.}