Protect and Serve

July 2021 View more

Diminutive drivers and pint-sized pedestrians return to the friendly confines of Safety Town

A sand castle at Centennial Beach. A footrace up (then a chaotic roll down) Rotary Hill. A stroll along the Riverwalk. For many kids who have grown up in Naperville, these are a few of the traditional markers of summertime in their hometown. And for tens of thousands of those youngsters, the season wouldn’t have been complete without one more tradition: a visit to Safety Town, the circa-1996 miniature metropolis at the corner of River and Aurora Roads that has taught generations of little ones how to safely navigate their suburban surroundings, largely through its popular one-week summer programs.

The Safety Town concept actually predates that familiar facility by almost two decades, stretching back to 1978 when the nationwide program was introduced by the Naperville Junior Woman’s Club and George Pradel (aka Officer Friendly) and held at a variety of temporary locations throughout the city. Since the late ’90s, participants have had the benefit of interacting with the scaled-down buildings, streets, railroad crossings, and traffic signals of the program’s now-permanent home that so many know and love.

Stacey Funk, however, was not one of those children. Odd, because Funk has held virtually every position available at Safety Town over the past decade—from high school team captain to college instructor to her current role as program director—but never attended the program as a child. Even so, she has shepherded thousands of kids through Safety Town and understands deeply just how important the program has been to so many Naperville families.

“It’s always nice to see so many people coming together to try to do something for kids and to help make Naperville a safer place,” says Funk, who is also an early education teacher in Community Unit School District 203.

After a 2020 season that was shut down by the pandemic, Funk and her staff have been eagerly welcoming back incoming kindergartners and first graders for the weeklong summer programs in June and July—as well as, for the first time, incoming second graders, who missed out last year.
As in recent years, each day of the program is once again dedicated to a particular theme (e.g., fire safety or personal safety) to give the week structure and cover the full gamut of safety-related topics.

Funk also has been busy promoting a couple of Safety Town’s latest offerings, which are designed to widen the age range and bring in some additional lessons: Safe Sitter, which teaches middle schoolers how to be good babysitters, and Safe@Home, for upper elementary and early middle school kids getting ready to stay home alone for the first time. While these newer programs are just starting to gain traction, Funk believes they’ll quickly grow through word of mouth to eventually join the main program as part of the fabric of childhood in Naperville.

“There’s such a community at Safety Town,” she says. “That’s what’s always drawn me back.”

Photo courtesy Safety Town