Children's champions increase their campaign
PORT ST. LUCIE In the summer of 1993, Amy and Don Kryak's son was a toddler when a wave of child drownings from lack of supervision swept the Treasure Coast.
In their community of Port St. Lucie, three died and two nearly did when little ones were left alone some for mere minutes and wandered into family pools.
More heart-breaking statistics of toddlers and young children who drowned in pools, hot tubs and bath tubs were reported in Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties, too.
The blitz of news reports was disturbing enough when Don Kryak, a Port St. Lucie police captain, was dispatched to a 911 call that would turn into a call for action for him and his wife.
"When I got there, the mother was frantic and giving CPR to a little baby on the livingroom floor," says Don, 43. "But it was too late. He was about the same age as my own son.
"That incident tears at your heart strings and for me, was really the catalyst."
Not sure what to do, the Kryaks brainstormed for strategies to prevent future deaths and stop the cruel cycle. He's a veteran police officer; her background is in communications, advertising and education.
Together, they founded a public awareness campaign, Never Leave a Child Unattended, and became its crusaders at their own time and expense. Now in its 13th year, the campaign has literally grown up with their three children, now 9, 10 and 13.
"The media was talking about pool gates, alarms and the need to learn CPR but nobody was getting it," says Amy, 47. "These kids were drowning because they weren't being supervised.
"We felt this was our calling to educate caregivers and parents of the importance of not leaving children unattended around water even for a moment."
Initially, they wrote a news release to the media to publicize the importance of parental supervision.
Their message, Never Leave a Child Unattended, was then emblazoned on thousands of postcards for mass mailings to area households through the Children's Services Council of St. Lucie County.
Florida is No. 1 in the nation for the drowning deaths of children, ages 1 to 4, according to the state health department.
"Whether in a mall, pool, car or at home, a lack of supervision could lead to tragic injuries, which are very easily avoidable," says Kathryn Basile, executive director of the Children's Services Council.
The Kryaks were geared up for Memorial Day in 1994. With about 500 posters, they blanketed the community from storefronts and police and fire departments to hospitals, schools and government buildings.
"Child safety is a year-round issue but with kids out of school, the risk of injury or death from being left unattended increases," Amy says.
This summer, 1,000 posters, illustrated with a mother's horrified look, are reaching St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River and Okeechobee counties. The Kryaks also have an endless supply of buttons, refrigerator magnets, flyers and brochures.
"We just want parents and caregivers to take the time to think about the consequences of leaving their child unattended," Amy says.
"Don't answer the telephone when the child is in the bath tub. A child can drown in an inch of water. If you take a nap, put the baby in the playpen or crib. Your whole life can change in seconds. Don't think it can't happen to you."
She also has written a pamphlet, Learn To Swim St. Lucie, for The Swim Collaborative of St. Lucie County, a group of more than 30 organizations that promotes swim lessons for children and water safety tips.
"That swim brochure goes home in every backpack of every student in St. Lucie County," she says.
The couple's campaign has even gone mass media. Public service announcements appear on local radio, television and in newspapers. The spots are available in English, Spanish and Creole.
There's also a Web site (www.neverleaveachildunattended.org).
In recent years of child abductions, their campaign also addresses the dangers of unsupervised children in malls, public bathrooms, playground, and parks.
The tragic deaths of forgotten babies in cars is a constant reminder to parents.
"Put a picture of your child in the car as a reminder," Don says. "Or leave your cellphone, lunch box, purse or brief case something you need back with the kid in the car seat."
The Kryaks don't know how many lives their campaign has saved with the influx of new residents. In Port St. Lucie alone, the population has leaped from 65,000 in 1993 to 150,000, making it the third fastest-growing city in the U.S.
"It's difficult to gauge the deterrent of tragedies," Don says. "You can only hope and presume that getting the message out there and rattling people's thought processes is what's going to make a difference."
The campaign has grown so big the couple plans to register as a charity to garner grants, corporate sponsorships and individual donations. Their expenses are estimated in the thousands of dollars.
Much of the work has been accomplished through Amy's business, Lost Art Advertising. There have also been pro bono services from printers and the media for public service announcements.
Their goal is to establish a national foundation of volunteers to save even more lives. Landing corporate support and a celebrity spokesman with a relevant testimonial would be ideal.
"My dream is to have that logo on every McDonald's bag," Amy says.
But no matter what, the couple wants to be involved.
"This is kind of our baby," she says.
Her husband nods, "Our fourth child."