Rodney Martin enjoys his early morning coffee and breakfast with friends at the local Bojangles. His group calls themselves the ROMEOs – Retired Old Men Eating Out. They laugh, tell tall tales, go over the news, and enjoy each other’s company.
“You know, we’ve got probably 75 or 100 retirees sitting around every morning at Hardees, Bojangles, McDonalds, doing nothing. So, I figured, why can’t I get them out for 30 minutes every day to help somebody else.”
Rodney had a grandchild in the local public school, and he was bothered by the school shootings. He woke up in the middle of the night about 3 years ago with an idea. That idea blossomed into the Seniors Building Bonds program – a way to boost volunteerism among retirees while doing something to help keep kids safe at school.
It’s a simple concept: outfit volunteers with orange safety vests, post one person at each door as kids arrive in the morning, and have them open car or school doors, greet the students and parents, while also keeping an eye out for any unusual activity.
“When you stand here in the morning and see all that’s going on – all the kids, all the cars, the buses – if somebody had bad intentions and they go around this school and see someone wearing a vest at each door, that’s a visual deterrent. They would probably think twice and move on.”
“We get to know the kids and the parents and we’re building trust. A lot of times, a backpack will get caught on a car seat or spills as he’s getting out of the car, and I can help a child get his things together and keep the car line moving. It makes me feel good to help that child and parent.”
“I get here a little after 7 every morning, and by 7:35, I’m back in my seat at Bojangles. I want to see those guys who are sitting around all morning get up and do something productive with their mornings before they settle in for a day of Matlock reruns.”
Rodney has way too much energy to sit in front of a TV all day, and this is a program he is passionate about. He has written up a complete presentation that he gave to the Murfreesboro School Board, and he’s now presenting it to each elementary school in the District. He is eager to help other schools and districts start similar programs. “I heard the Governor say that we need more vigilance at schools and basically that is all this is.”
Volunteers involved submit to background checks and are provided vests. The school board safety director is their direct contact for any suspicious activity. They sign in and out at their assigned school just as any other volunteer might do, helping them build relationships as the teachers and administrators get to know them. It’s a low cost program for the schools (about $250 for background checks and vests) and involves little to no maintenance by school personnel or parent organizations. And it’s not just for Seniors – parents or others are welcome to volunteer.
If you think it’s a good idea, and something your school might be interested in, you can contact Rodney at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 615-692-9235 to learn more about getting started.