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Don’t Walk Alone Strengthens Campus Safety
by CAROL OLECHOWSKI (November 7, 2003)

According to an old saying, “There’s safety in numbers.” In 1982, some University at Albany student volunteers took that adage to heart and created Don’t Walk Alone, a service that “promotes the general safety of the uptown campus” by ensuring that “students, faculty, staff, or even visitors” reach their destinations safely, said ROBERT “MARTY” WITT, program coordinator.

Witt, a graduate student in urban and regional planning, began volunteering with Don’t Walk Alone as an undergraduate. While he initially got involved with the program to fulfill his Project Renaissance volunteer service component, the Albany native returned the following semester “because of the people I had met and befriended, and the satisfaction of knowing I was being of some service.”

As Don’t Walk Alone coordinator, Witt publicizes the service “via podium postings, participation at such functions as the University’s personal safety fairs, and coordination with campus-affiliated groups such as Project Renaissance and Alpha Phi Omega.” He also solicits volunteers, each of whom must fill out an application that includes information about academic achievement and good character. “I forward the relevant information to [University Police Department Director of Personal Safety and Off-Campus Affairs] TOM GEBHARDT for completion of GPA and judicial background checks. Captains and volunteers are then scheduled for a weekly shift, with as much consideration as possible given to their preferences. Once the service is staffed and active, my duties shift back to advertising, but I still make changes to the schedules as needed. I am also responsible for placing orders for supplies for the office and reward materials for volunteers, such as Don’t Walk Alone mugs we give to volunteers to show our appreciation,” Witt explained.

Student organizations may volunteer through the “Adopt-A-Night” program for one night of service per week, or for one or two nights per semester. Escorts are based in the lobby of the main library on the uptown campus. Any student wishing to use the service may meet the escorts during service hours there or call 442-5511. Two escorts will then accompany the individual to a dorm, the library, or another campus destination. Escorts are identifiable by their Don’t Walk Alone Safety Escort Service jackets or vests; they also carry flashlights and walkie-talkies to stay in contact with the captain assigned to that particular night.

Don’t Walk Alone operates Sunday through Thursday from 7 to 11 p.m. It is inactive Friday and Saturday nights, as well as during official University holidays, recesses, and the summer months.

REBECCA N. WARD, who majors in English and anthropology, began volunteering with Don’t Walk Alone when she arrived at UAlbany three semesters ago. Originally motivated by an interest in continuing her own personal tradition of community service, she furthered her involvement, becoming a captain. In that capacity, Ward heads up the Tuesday 7-to-11 p.m. shift, which the Alpha Delta Eta chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a nationwide coed fraternity dedicated to leadership, friendship, and service, has adopted.

While volunteers usually sign up for a shift ahead of time, Ward pointed out, “my group runs its night in a slightly different way. Most of us have erratic schedules, so we have an open-door policy; anyone who wants to volunteer and has already filled out the appropriate paperwork is welcome to come in that Tuesday evening. We wait either to get a call or to have someone stop by the desk and ask for a walk. Then we select a male and a female and send them out with a radio and a flashlight to escort the person.”

When the volunteers reach their destination, “they are required to radio in and let me know if they are returning or have received another walk request. Sometimes we get calls where we have to meet someone, say at one of the campus bus stops, and walk that person to her car. In that case, the volunteers have to radio in when they arrive at the pick-up location and when they arrive at their final destination. Primarily, we get calls for walks from the library area, where our table is located, to go to a destination far from the podium – for example, visitor parking or the Colonial lot,” said Ward.

Sophomore VENG TAING has been with Don’t Walk Alone since the beginning of the Spring 2003 semester. “I decided to volunteer my time because I never like to be idle. Volunteering not only keeps me busy; it also gives me the satisfaction of knowing that I contribute in a beneficial way to the community,” commented the Queens, N.Y., native, who double majors in actuarial science and economics and plans a career as an actuary. Taing gives four hours a week to Don’t Walk Alone; he is also the treasurer of Circle K, a Student Association-funded community service club at UAlbany.

Approximately five to ten students request escorts each week, according to Witt. The number of individuals requesting walks is impacted by how safe people feel on campus, noted Gebhardt — a factor probably due, in large part, to “the bright blue blinking lights that have increased the visibility of the exterior emergency phones on the uptown campus, and to annual exterior lighting surveys done by the President’s Task Force on Women’s Safety.”

Witt, who works closely with Gebhardt, praised the personal safety director for his strong support. “It is his presence that allows continuity in Don’t Walk Alone. His willingness to help develop ideas for advertising, recognition alternatives, and recruitment possibilities has really made my job manageable. The experience he has with the program has been invaluable to me, and it will be a great benefit to all future Don’t Walk Alone coordinators.”

Gebhardt credits the students for the program’s success. “The Don’t Walk Alone Safety Escort Service, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, is an essential component of the University’s overall personal safety plan and a shining example of student voluntarism.”

For more information about Don’t Walk Alone, please contact the program’s office in Campus Center 115 or at the number noted above.


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