The Police Department recently raised more than $2,500 for Project Lifesaver International, a nonprofit program that helps law enforcement to quickly locate those prone to wander due to conditions like Alzheimer’s, autism and Down’s syndrome.
“The interesting thing about our Project Lifesaver initiative is that it is funded completely from donations,” Police Chief Chris Carden said during a presentation at a City Council meeting last week. “And that’s completely from donations for beards. Now, it’s weird, and it’s crazy, but it works.”
For two months starting in November, policemen were allowed to breach the department’s facial hair regulations for its second annual Facial Hair Fundraiser. By making a donation to Project Lifesaver, officers could grow their facial hair any way they desired. Many officers participated, and Carden said officers also had the idea to place collection buckets at businesses around town.
By the end of January, police had collected $1,175 from local businesses, $650 from gas stations, $470 from police employees and $250 from direct citizen donations for a total of $2,245.
“To be honest, I expected we would get about $1,000,” Carden said. “We raised a lot of money, and we raised enough that we probably won’t have to raise as much next year. It was unreal the amount of effort that went into this.”
All proceeds will fund Project Lifesaver efforts in Sylacauga.
The program works by providing participants with a bracelet that transmits a signal that can be traced with specialized equipment, enabling emergency personnel to locate the person promptly should they wander off and become lost. The equipment reduces search time to 15 to 30 minutes, compared to an average of 9 hours search time without a bracelet.
Carden said six Sylacauga residents currently have a bracelet.
The donations will provide the $300 bracelets to participants at no cost and will also cover replacement batteries and other equipment and training necessary to carry out the program.
Cpl. Kent Smith, state Aviation Unit tactical flight officer and state coordinator for Project Lifesaver, said he is using Sylacauga Police as a positive example of this program throughout the state and even across the country.
“When I travel throughout the state and try to encourage these agencies to think outside the box, guess who set the example? It was Sylacauga,” Smith said. “The goal is to bring lost loved ones home. We have 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s right now, and 8,000 of those are in Alabama. Of that 5 million, 60 percent will wander. That’s not including our kids that are autistic, people with dementia or Down syndrome. If you watch the news, you will see this is happening a lot, and we’re losing people. Well, this program is going to stop that.”
Carden recognized Project Lifesaver coordinators and master police officers Doug Kemp and James Wimmer, as well as Capt. Kelley Johnson, Sgt. Ryan Gaither and Sgt. Donnie Landers for their efforts to make the fundraiser a success.
“This is a ministry,” Carden said. “This is selfless service. They’re doing this because they want people to be safe.”
Of 67 counties in the state, 50 counties now participate in Project Lifesaver, Smith said, with more planning to join soon.
Contact Emily McLain at firstname.lastname@example.org.