A friend of Venice resident Helen Estrada, Ron Starkman, asked for her assistance in developing and marketing an idea he had to prevent accidents involving children at school crosswalks.
Starkman, who lives in Nevada, called it a “Crosswalk Guardian,” a hand-held flashing stop sign.
Once you raise the sign the light goes on and once it’s pointed down, the light goes off.
It’s especially noticeable in inclement weather.
There’s a rechargeable adapter connection at the bottom that’s plugged in like a cell phone to recharge the light.
“The flashing light immediately grabs people’s attention three times sooner than” signs that are currently used, Helen says. “That means three seconds, and three seconds can mean everything. It can mean a child’s life.”
This was something personal and close to Helen’s heart, for she was an accident victim as a child.
“When I was a child I was at a pedestrian crossing and was hit by a car going 40 miles per hour,” she says. “My shoes were knocked off.
“I couldn’t feel my feet. I couldn’t walk for a couple of weeks. I missed a lot of school. I was in rehab every day. I do have spinal damage for the rest of my life.
“You know what, I’m lucky. There are a lot of families that I talk to who are still mourning the loss of their children and grandchildren.”
Helen gave up her job as a fashion designer and decided to take a stand and do something that she believed in — the Children’s Guardian Foundation.
It was agreed that the foundation could not sell the signs to schools. The signs cost $150 each.
“Schools have no money,” she says, “and they generally need from two to six signs.”
The foundation is now non-profit. Helen, the California regional director, and three others in Southern California cover the territory.
That’s not a whole lot of people to get the word out.
“We’re a grass-roots organization, so we market it through communities, one community at a time,” she says.
According to Helen, there are 660 schools in Los Angeles County.
“Nearly 100 of them have signs,” she says. “We’re slowly getting out there. For as grass roots as we are, we are doing it and we’ll keep doing it for however long it takes.”
Helen related several stories to me. The following are only two.
We, too, often see these types of stories on the 11 p.m. news or read about them in the newspaper.
About four months ago, she was on her way to drop off signs in South Central Los Angeles and the street was blocked off. There were cops everywhere.
She rolled her window down and said, “What’s going on? I’ve got to get through. I’m dropping these signs off. I just want to go next door to this school.”
The officer said, “You’re a little late. There were four kids at this crossing and they’re all in ICU (intensive care unit) now. It was a hit-and-run.”
She also told of three-year-old Alexander Cruz, whose grandfather walked him to preschool every day in San Francisco.
One morning, they were holding hands crossing the street and a car going only 15 miles an hour hit them both.
The grandfather survived. Alexander couldn’t survive the impact and he died immediately while holding his grandfather’s hand.
“That’s why most of these children are victims,” says Helen. “Most of them do die or are paralyzed. Their bodies can’t survive the impact.
“I know of children who have died and the cars are going only five miles per hour. It’s where they are hit. It’s horrible.
“People ask me all the time, ‘What is the reason for this? Why aren’t people slowing down?’
“Number one, they don’t care. They’re self-absorbed. All they care about is themselves. They have to get to their place on time. They’re on their cell phones. They’re not used to something stopping them.
“Nobody really enforces the speed limit near schools. When you can’t rely on local government to enforce this problem, to protect the children, you have to rely on people in the community.
“That’s why it’s a grass-roots program. We target the people in the community one person at a time.
“If we can just get one person to spread the word to ten people and then those ten people to spread it to ten more people, then we’re doing something effective.”
Helen also works with Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs).
“Parents are a big issue,” she says. “They’re a big part of the problem at schools. They don’t want to get in the congestion in the parking lot so they’ll drop their children off across the street.
“They don’t want to pull in and cooperate with what the schools ask them to do. Or after school they’ll wait down the street honking and having road rage with the other parents.
“Most of the parents are lazy. They don’t see any problems except traffic and it’s every man for himself. They’re not aware. They need a reminder.”
Helen wants to spread more awareness, either through the signs or by talking about it.
Accidents at pedestrian crosswalks are the second leading cause of children’s death in America. The first is automobile accidents — both involve cars.
“I think that it’s up to us as individual human beings to actually make a difference,” she says. “We can’t really expect to change the world but it takes just one person, one person to care enough to make a difference to one other person and that’s all I want.
“I would just so appreciate for people to hear this message, to know what our cause is. Go to our Web site, www.childrens guardianfoundation.com, learn about who we are, spread the awareness. And, please be more careful driving. It would help us so much.”
To contact Helen, (310) 266-1094.
Broadway Elementary School is the recipient of a Crosswalk Guardian. It’s used by volunteer participants of the Kid Watch program on Broadway Avenue on the north side of the school.
Kid Watch, a partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Police Department, was developed in 1995 in the southwest University of Southern California area to help children feel safe as they walked to school.
One-third of Broadway’s students walk to school, many of them enter and leave on the north side of the school. Sometimes parents will drop their children off.
The Kid Watch volunteer is not allowed to cross the street because there is no crosswalk. Assistant Principal Ilene Robbins’ advice to drivers is, “Slow down.”