For Erin Ahrens, the newly-created Canton-Cherokee radKIDS program is the only way for her 6-year-old son to learn the skills to keep himself safe from dangerous situations.
Suffering from a high-functioning form of autism, Charlie can’t just learn “stranger danger,” Ahrens said. On Tuesday night, Charlie and 11 other Cherokee County children learned how to push dangerous people away—known as the radKIDS stance—and use all of their fingers pushed together to poke potential abductors in the eyes.
“I’m really excited that he might have some tools to know how to protect himself,” Ahrens said.
During the two-hour class, which was the first one held in Cherokee County, the children also learned the radKIDS rules and how to run away from someone who is chasing them. They also learned how to call 911.
While it was the first class for the students, it also was the first time for Eric Dixon, a police officer in a nearby jurisdiction. Dixon became a certified instructor last year and is assisting with this week’s classes because his city hasn’t started the program.
“When you see the light go on in their head, that’s what’s really cool,” Dixon said. “As a police officer, I see these thing every day but when I went through the class, I saw how it affects every day life.”
The students weren’t the only ones who were learning at Tuesday night’s class. Several parents said they picked up pointers, too. Come up with a password to use if someone other than a parent picks your child up from school. Poke potential abductors in the eyes with all fingers to create a point. That's known as "peppering" in the radKids world.
“I was surprised that I learned stuff,” said Ahrens, whose 5-year-old daughter, Shayna, also is enrolled in the class. “I feel empowered from the class. I paid attention, and I’m glad I did.”
April Trent said she hopes her 6-year-old son Owen will be able to protect himself after becoming a radKID.
“I even attack my kids at home,” Trent said. “I jump on them. I teach them how to push me off them. I want them to have that instinct.”
The inaugural class was originally geared toward children living at River Ridge at Canton, the apartment community where 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera was killed last year by a maintenance man. However, most of the children enrolled in this week’s class are not from the apartment complex. This class is a way to help the community heal from Jorelys’ death, said John Hicks, director of the G. Cecil Pruett Community Center and Family YMCA, which is partnering with radKIDS by giving the group meeting space.
“The community needed it, and that’s what we’re here for,” Hicks said. “We have a great location, a great facility and a lot of resources that can help them. We’re excited about having it here.”
But, it takes money for the program to grow. Materials, T-shirts and bracelets are given out to each child enrolling in the classes, and the instructors must purchase red suits for aggressors to wear for simulations on the last day of class. Those suits cost several thousand dollars. The program costs $60 per child, though parents said the cost of this week’s classes was reduced to $25. The city council voted last week to give the group $5,000.
“You can’t run a program without money, and I think more people will step up,” Hicks said. “It’s like everything in life. It takes money.”
For more information, call Bianca Cummings at 678-488-0415, Sgt. Stacy Bailey at 770-720-4883 or go online to the group's website.