"Kona Ice is of course kid centric," said Kinney, owner/operator of the local Kona Ice, which serves tropical shaved ice and novelty ice cream treats primarily during youth-related events. "Everything we do wraps around what kids are doing in our community. And my wife and I have always been pretty active with [Advocates for Children] here in Bartow County. We found out that they were doing Safe Place sites. And there was a Facebook site, and I asked, 'What, if anything, Kona Ice could do to help out with Safe Place even though we don't have a specific location, because we don't have a storefront? Our trucks are mobile.'
"They're the ones that said, 'Hey, there's such things as mobile sites.' And I said, 'Well, what do we need to do?' That's when we got into conversations and found out that Kona Ice could be a Safe Place mobile site. And since we are at children's events all throughout our community, they thought that would be especially good to make sure that the youth in our community knows that we can get information about Safe Place to them if there's any questions about that."
A program of Advocates for Children since 2001, National Safe Place has 56 locations in northwest Georgia, ranging from libraries and fire stations to schools and convenience stores.
"Kona Ice is our first mobile site," said Melissa Hunt, Safe Place community liaison for Advocates for Children, a Cartersville nonprofit that assists about 2,500 area youth each year through the Flowering Branch Children's Center and providing services that aid in the awareness, prevention and treatment of child abuse. "Other Safe Place communities around the country have mobile sites like transit buses, taxi services, things of that nature. Kona Ice will be the first mobile site in the northwest Georgia area, which is the area that Advocates' services for Project Safe Place.
"Kona Ice is very known in the community already and is appealing to the youth of all ages. Whether it's a 3 year old or a 17 year old, everybody loves the Kona Ice truck. They're easily approachable and they are respectable, successful members of society that Advocates knows we could trust to keep a youth or child safe until one of our representatives was there to help."
Through the Safe Place program, youth can express they need assistance at any of the participating sites designated by a yellow and black Safe Place sign. Once contacted, a Safe Place representative responds to the Bartow County location in at least 30 minutes. After assessing the situation, they determine what steps need to be taken, such as the youth returning home or possibly staying at the nonprofit's Flowering Branch Children's shelter overnight.
"The benefits for having Safe Place sites in the community is a child has access to more than just their school or their parents when they're in a dangerous situation," Hunt said. "If it's needing help immediately, there's some place local they can go to, like the fire department.
"There's fire departments all over our county. That's somewhere easily accessible to the youth, where they can go and they know they're safe until the appropriate help gets there. The other reason is if a child is in danger by someone they personally know -- if they are a victim of abuse by someone they personally know -- that gives them an outside source to go to for help rather than another family member."
Hunt emphasized the same policies apply to Kona Ice in that children will not be transported via a Kona Ice vehicle. Instead, youth will remain near the truck's location, Advocates will be contacted and Hunt or her coworker Marian Barber will arrive shortly.
"Us going to the location where the child is with Kona Ice, that's the same as all of our other Safe Place sites. The child stays at the Safe Place site until one or two of the Safe Place representatives get there," Hunt said. "Then we just sort of assess the situation and determine is it just an argument with a parent? Can we try to work things out and get the child back home? Is this something that we need to bring them to Flowering Branch for at least an overnight [stay] and see what's going on?
"We have an in-house counselor at Flowering Branch who can help us assess the situation a little better. And then obviously we have contacts with Department of Family and Children Services and with Bartow County Sheriff's Office. They give us advice. They give us guidance on situations when we need it. Our goal is not to make a referral to law enforcement or to the Department of Family and Children Services, but absolutely if we deem it necessary that one of those agencies needed to be involved, we do have that partnership and that relationship with them."
In addition to its Safe Place sites, Advocates still is promoting the Txt 4 Help program, a communication tool established in October 2009 to provide more access to teenagers in crisis. After texting the word "safe" and their present address to 69866, youths 12 to 17 across the country will obtain the phone number of the closest youth shelter and the location of the nearest Safe Place site.
For more information about the local National Safe Place program, call Advocates for Children at 770-387-1143 or visit www.advochild.org.