PASADENA, Calif. – With news reports of child kidnappings and children gone missing nationwide seemingly coming on a daily basis, Wescom Credit Union has responded by hosting a child safety program at its 22 branches in Southern California. “We really believe that as a part of the Southern California community, we have a responsibility to contribute and give back to our members and the communities we serve,” said Jane Wood, senior vice president of member services, in explaining why the credit union was putting on the program. “We wanted to provide an opportunity, a forum, for parents to really learn more about safety, to ask questions and to give them something that will hopefully help alleviate some of their fears.” Parents’ fears have been heightened by cases including the abduction of 4-year-old Jessica Cortez from a Los Angeles city park, the kidnapping and slayings of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam in San Diego and 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in the Los Angeles area, missing 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart of Salt Lake City, and the disappearance of 9-year-old Jennifer Short whose parents were found shot to death in the family home in Bassett, Va. “It seems like the summer of snatched kids,” opined USA Today in a recent article on missing children. “It seems that almost every day in recent times we’ve heard of another story of a missing or kidnapped child,” Wood said. “We just felt it was timely and appropriate at this time to do something. “If we can make a difference for just one family, it’s certainly well worth the effort,” Wood added. The “Stranger Danger: How to Better Protect Your Children” seminars, held Aug. 26-31, featured speakers from law enforcement agencies. The programs, hosted at Wescom branches, were open to members and nonmembers of the credit union. The child safety program was the first of its kind for Wescom, one of the largest credit unions in the nation with $2 billion in assets and 175,000 members. It serves members in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura. In addition to the morning, afternoon and evening seminars, the branches offered free identification kits, allowing parents to record their child’s description, fingerprints, contact and medical information and a photograph. The “kIDs kits,” developed by Wescom, also include a plastic pouch for a strand of hair, which could be used for DNA identification purposes if necessary. Wood said that depending on the success of the seminars, they could become an annual event for the credit union. “If the response is positive from our members and the community and they find it to be a valuable and important service, I see no reason why we couldn’t do it annually,” she said. [email protected]

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