As kids streamed down the streets of West Philly toward Henry C. Lea Elementary School for the first day of classes, Maurice Jones was looking for another group of people — and not seeing them. Jones, president of Lea’s parent association, had been assured by city officials that he’d see a team of volunteers, easily identifiable in yellow vests, manning strategic corners along a route designated by the city as a “safe corridor” for kids coming from the recently shuttered Wilson Elementary to Lea. “There was no one,” Jones says. That morning, this reporter also walked the route laid out by the city, and saw no volunteers. Two crossing guards, a volunteer for a private school, a parent and even state Rep. Jim Roebuck all had the same experience.
It wasn’t the most hopeful sign for WalkSafePHL, a program unveiled by Mayor Michael Nutter in August. It promised to solve a problem much on the minds of many parents — the possibility of danger as kids making the transition from closed schools walked new, longer and potentially hostile routes to their new ones — by manning routes with an army of trained volunteers. The plan struck Jones as dubious: Where would all these volunteers come from? But he’d been assured by Anthony Murphy of Town Watch Integrated Services, which is in charge of the operation, that the volunteers would be there. Reached by phone on Monday, Murphy couldn’t say who had shown up.
On Monday afternoon, Jones finally spotted a volunteer: a senior citizen named Josephine Blow who’d been recruited just that day. Blow was at a meeting at the police station, she says, when someone from Town Watch came in. “She said, ‘We need volunteers!’” So Blow donned a yellow vest and joined the afternoon shift. “I was the only one I saw out there,” she acknowledges. “But I couldn’t say for sure.”
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