Project Lifesaver a true team effort

WORTHINGTON -- The Nobles County Sheriff's Office, along with the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation (WRHCF), Radio Works, Minnesota West Community and Technical College and the Center for Active Living, are partnering in an effort they ...

David Hartzler sticks his landing while jumping into Worthington’s Lake Okabena during the 2012 Deep Freeze Dip. This year’s dip will see all proceeds go toward the new Project Lifesaver being implemented by the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office. (File photo)
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WORTHINGTON - The Nobles County Sheriff’s Office, along with the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation (WRHCF), Radio Works, Minnesota West Community and Technical College and the Center for Active Living, are partnering in an effort they feel will address a critical need in the county.
The sheriff’s office has chosen to team with Project Lifesaver International (PLI), establishing a program that can locate and give a timely response to help save lives and reduce potential injury to Nobles County residents who wander due to Alzheimer’s, autism and other cognitive conditions. Chief Deputy Chris Dybevick said Project Lifesaver will be available in the county beginning Feb. 1.
Dybevick explained earlier this week that it hasn’t been difficult finding help in publicizing and raising money for the program.
“The collaborative part of this has been from others coming to me,” Dybevick said. “The college (Minnesota West) contacted me, and I was steered in the direction of the health care foundation. Radio Works came to me, and they were extremely excited about the project.
“It’s still an ongoing project,” Dybevick added. “We’re still not by any means, way, shape or form done yet.”
The Nobles County Board of Commissioners recently approved an agreement from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety for a $4,000 grant for equipment. Fundraising efforts will go primarily toward long-term sustainability for the program, with the goal being to not burden any family with its cost.
Project Lifesaver International is a non-profit organization founded in 1999 that is currently partnered with more than 1,400 agencies. Searches rely on radio frequency technology along with specially trained search and rescue teams. PLI provides in-depth training for equipment while teaching team members how to communicate with people afflicted with cognitive conditions, both of which are critical in the successful rescues of missing persons who wander or become lost.
Each participant in Project Lifesaver wears a watch-sized radio transmitter, and the transmitter constantly emits a radio frequency signal that can be tracked. A monthly meeting with each client ensures the transmitter is functioning properly.
Dybevick said a certified trainer from Project Lifesaver will be in Worthington on Jan. 25 to begin formal training, which will encompass three days. A second Worthington visit will be made at a later date, as only seven at a time will be able to be trained.
In the meantime, Worthington will host its annual Winterfest celebration on Jan. 22-23, and this year’s Deep Freeze Dip (set for Jan. 23) - as well as next year’s event - will contribute all its proceeds to Project Lifesaver.
“The biggest thing we looked at was this is the seventh year of the Deep Freeze Dip, and we created it because we wanted to do local fundraising for local use,” Radio Works Co-owner Chad Cummings said. “Over the first six years we’ve raised money for Honor Flight, the Jami Cummings Learn to Swim program and the Wayne Klumper HEALS Fund … and raised $150,000 in six years.”
The Deep Freeze Dip has also raised awareness of the causes it has supported over the years and, as a result, helped generate additional contributions from other agencies and individuals, Cummings said. For example, the Jami Cummings Learn to Swim program - created after Cummings’ wife saved two drowning children in Lake Okabena - now has the funding to continue teaching second-graders to swim for the next 10 years.
Project Lifesaver is personally appealing to Cummings for a couple of reasons.
“It’s a great project because it affects all kinds of people in Nobles County,” he said, adding that Radio Works News and Information Director Justine Wettschreck has had a longtime interest in the tracking devices used in Project Lifesaver and spoke about them with Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening - and that he and his wife have had conversations with Wilkening about potential grant opportunities for funding a Project Lifesaver program locally.
The Cummings are also the parents of an autistic boy who will turn 5 years old next month.
“He had been pretty much non-verbal until last year,” Cummings said. “When he takes off, when someone else yells his name, he doesn’t always respond. … There are also numerous cases every day, every week and every month where elderly people jump in their car and nobody then sees them for two or three days.”
As a 19-year EMT and volunteer firefighter, Cummings also recalled taking part in many search-and-rescue missions for lost individuals.
Dybevick said time will tell as to how many participants will meet Project Lifesaver criteria and participate in the program, but he doesn’t doubt its potential for making a significant difference.
“We had a man with Alzheimer’s in Worthington, for example, who was a very good wanderer to the point where we’d find him in St. Peter,” he said. “That’s kind of an extreme case, but that’s the sort of thing we’re talking about.
“Children with autism, as another example, are very, very good at hiding, especially when they’re frightened,” Dybevick continued. “It takes a lot of manpower to find these kids, and it can be pretty expensive. This is a way to try and negate that.”
WRHCF Executive Director Jeff Rotert said the foundation board is proud to support Project Lifesaver.
“I think that everyone has been touched by someone in the family, a neighbor or a friend who has coped with some of these cognitive issues,” Rotert said. “I’d been in a conversation with Chad Cummings and he’d been talking about Project Lifesaver, and we later had Chris (Dybevick) come to a board meeting and talk about the program. The board truly felt the program fit the mission of what we’re trying to do.”
As a result, the WRHCF will match up to $14,000 raised by jumpers participating in this year’s Deep Freeze Dip.
“Every person that jumps has to get $250 in sponsorships, and we will be matching those up to $14,000,” Rotert said. “Those proceeds, along with all the sponsorship dollars, will go to the sheriff’s office for its maintenance of the program. We certainly hope and expect we can match the full $14,000.
“We trying to make this financially viable for everyone and create a situation where people don’t have to worry about the financial aspects of being involved with this program,” he added.

Related Topics: HEALTH
Ryan McGaughey arrived in Worthington in April 2001 as sports editor of The Daily Globe, and first joined Forum Communications Co. upon his hiring as a sports reporter at The Dickinson (North Dakota) Press in November 1998. McGaughey became news editor in Worthington in November 2002 and editor in August 2006.
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