By RENE J. ROY
PORT AUX BASQUES – Traffic didn’t take long to back up on Wednesday, June 9. The RCMP had established a checkpoint last week to launch a driver’s awareness program created by Corporal Colin Helm. Helm developed Project Think Of Me (or Project TOM) back in 2014. Stationed at that time in Digby, Nova Scotia, he was looking for a new idea.
“Rather than us (RCMP) promoting road safety, what if a youth told their side of things? So, at that point and time, Operation TOM was born,” said Helm.
The safety program that Cpl. Helm created has the RCMP distribute blank papers to elementary schools with a note from the local detachment. The students are invited to draw anything they like, encouraging motorists to slow down, don’t text, be safe, and “Think of Me”. The initiative was a success from the very beginning.
“Instantly, I was getting phone calls from Calgary,” recalled Cpl. Helm. “British Columbia has used it on liquour bags around Christmas time also.”
Last Wednesday’s checkpoint is the first time the project was launched in Newfoundland and Labrador. Constable Chad Mitchell is the one overseeing this launch of the project. He has been stationed in the Port aux Basques detachment since December.
“Throughout the first three or four months that I was in Port aux Basques, I noticed a lot of traffic violations throughout my patrols, so choosing this operation enabled us to involve the community at the ground level.”
Cst. Mitchell has been working on the launch for some time, encountering mostly COVID related challenges over the last month. COVID protocols in schools are stringent, so Mitchell had to rely on the principals and staff in lieu of being able to speak directly to the children.
“The age groups of those involved were Grades K to 6. We wanted to reach out to younger kids, because they’d be more enthusiastic about drawing whatever came to mind,” he explained.
Cst. Mitchell estimated that they have received around 500 drawings from the students of St. James Elementary, Grandy’s River Collegiate, Belanger Memorial and Legallais Memorial in Isle Aux Morts.
He also said that most of the responses at the checkpoint were “about 95 per cent positive.”
“They said this is a unique idea,” shared Cst. Mitchell. “They enjoyed it – very few negative or indifferent responses.”
The program will be run at every check-stop that Mitchell will be involved with, and he plans on staying in contact with all of the involved schools to keep them informed, and hopefully he can get in to provide presentations. Cst. Mitchell also expressed his gratitude to all of the schools, students and staff who participated in the launch.
“It’s a success in my eyes. Just the participation from the students, and the reception we got from the drivers in the community.”