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by Janet Nesler

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Four years ago, Sue Harness, local coordinator of Operation Baby Buckle in Portsmouth, started looking for something to compensate for the money made in the area to give back to the community.

"A lot of kids were flipping from the back seat to the front seat unrestrained, so I was looking for something we could do in that program", said Harness. "I went to Tampa, Florida to one of our conventions for Primerica Financial Services and there was a display set up so I went over to see what it was all about. We could buy infant car seats at a very low price to be given to
underprivileged families and we could sign up to get this in our area."

Operation Baby Buckle was set up by Primerica Financial Services in conjunction with the Travelers group and the Safe America Foundation. Scioto County United Way also helps fund the program. The Portsmouth Health Department distributes the seats. Because some area families can't afford the $22 to $118 it costs to buy a car seat for their child, Operation Baby Buckle has been giving them to Scioto County residents. In order to be eligible for the program, a parent needs to show financial need. After

receving the seats there is a half©hour workshop where the parent is taught how to install the seat and view a tape on safety tips.

There is one sponsored event a year to raise money for the seats. This year The Lamb's Drama Team, of Sciotoville United Methodist Church, has chosen "Operation Baby Buckle" as its 1997 fund raising target according to Team coordinator, Pat North of Sciotoville. North has written a short play titled "Back Seat Driver", inspired by the Rick Kirchoff family, who were friends of the North's. Their son, Chris Kirchoff was permanently brain damaged during a head on collision 23 years ago. The child was unbuckled. Though containing a touch of humor, the play has a sobering effect. At the conclusion of the play there will be a slide presentation of actual photos of Chris Kirchoff before and after his accident.

The Lamb's Drama Team has done many fund raisers. Drama Team members must be dedicated and agree to a conduct covenant and several other stipulations. They have only performed plays written by North for the specific occasions.

One most common belief is that a child is safe if it's being held in an adult's arms during a crash. In a 30-mile-an-hour collision, a 10©pound child would be torn from the adults arms and hurled into the dashboard or windshield with a sledge©hammer force of 200 pounds. For a 30 pound child, the force would be 900 pounds.

Forgetting to fasten a seat belt can have a devastating effect for years to come. Chris Kirchoff has had thousands of hours of therapy, his family has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in
medical bills and Chris speaks only a few words, requires a wheelchair for mobility and must have assistance for even his most basic life functions. His grandfather was taking Chris and
his cousin to town spend their Christmas money, it was the day after Christmas and they were so excited about what they were going to buy, nobody remembered to do a simple, life saving act, to buckle a seat belt. A block from their house they were hit head-on by a truck. All their lives changed forever.

"I used to be a health teacher," said Harness. "I saw this sort of thing happen all the time. I wanted to find a community need and fill it and it has been an interesting ride over the past
four years. The project is a wonderful thing and people have beenpitching in as volunteers. The Scioto County Medical Alliance, made up of doctors wives, has taken on our project and they have been avid supporters of what we do."

Since Scioto County has the second highest teen pregnancy rate in Ohio, young parents are a major part of the target audience, although the general public is invited to attend the play's
debut, February 16, at 3:00 p.m. at the Friends Community Center, Room A. The Community Center is located behind Mercy Hospital in Portsmouth.

Donations received following the play go to Operation Baby Buckle headquarters, which returns all monies in the form of car seats to the Portsmouth area. One car seat costs $25.00 and will be given free of charge to the needy.

Southern Ohio Medical Center co©sponsors the play "Back Seat Driver", providing use of Friends Center at no charge.

Any community interested in having Operation Baby Buckle in their community can feel free to contact Sue Harness at 614-776-2003 and she will be happy to give information on who to contact to get started.

"The way to get it in your community is to be interested enough to put your foot out there and make a commitment and then stick to it. The children are the ones who depend on you, not the
parents. The children just don't have the voice until they are old enough to speak", said Harness.


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