Published in The Day

By Kimberly Drelich

Groton ― Mary Jo Riley, supervisor at the Thrive 55+ Active Living Center, said she hopes a new program will bring peace of mind to families.

Thrive 55+, formerly known as the Groton Senior Center, and the Town of Groton Police Department plan to bring the Project Lifesaver Program to the community to assist first responders find people with cognitive disorders and help them get home safe, if they wander off.

“We hope it takes the stress level down for some people,” said Riley.

Participants in the program receive a wrist band with a device that incorporates radio frequency technology, which will help police find the person if they wander off, Kathy Williams, program supervisor at Thrive 55+, said. Riley said the program also includes training for police on how to use the equipment and various search and rescue skills.

The program is open to anyone, from children with autism to an adult with dementia or a traumatic brain injury, said Riley.

Thrive 55+ will hold an appreciation event for community sponsors from 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 30 and will formally unveil the program that day. People are invited to stop by to learn more about the program.

Project Lifesaver is a nonprofit organization, founded in 1999, “that provides law enforcement, fire/rescue, and caregivers with a program designed to protect, and when necessary, quickly locate individuals with cognitive disorders who are prone to the life threatening behavior of wandering,” according to the organization’s website.The program is used by local public safety agencies across the country, as well as internationally.

Riley said the center knew of people who had wandered off and families struggling because of it, so it wanted to find a way to help. Williams worked with Groton Town Police Officer Sean O’Brien and the town’s police department to bring the program to fruition.

Groton Town Police Chief Louis J. Fusaro, Jr. noted the program’s name as Project Lifesaver and said it could be a lifesaver for someone who wanders off, particularly in the middle of the night or during inclement weather.

“We’ll work with their families that get them signed up and make sure that we can get that person to safety,” Fusaro said.

Fusaro said while there are a few other agencies in Connecticut and surrounding states currently participating in Project Lifesaver, Groton is the only police department he’s aware of in Southeastern Connecticut that is currently involved, though he suspects other communities may be interested in the future.

Williams said people sign up voluntarily for the program, and a wristband with the device costs $350, though people can check with their insurance companies to see if the cost will be covered.

Williams said Thrive 55+ fundraised for the program, and the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, Pfizer, Eversource, Charter Oak Credit Union and Chelsea Groton were sponsors. Overall, the center raised $11,500. Along with fundraising for the equipment, the center also fundraised for ten wristbands for participants in the center’s Discover Connections, a class for people with moderate to mild dementia, cognitive issues, and traumatic brain injuries.

Williams said sometimes people’s insurance won’t cover the program, so the center is continuing to fundraise to help purchase as many wristbands as it can. Thrive 55+ will hold a chili cookoff and Bakers Battle Sale, along with a scarecrow contest, from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15 at a cost of $15 per person. Proceeds will benefit Project Lifesaver.

Fusaro said this is one of community many programs the police have. Police, in collaboration with other entities, are also holding an event from 8 a.m. to noon on Oct. 1 at Fitch High School to help drivers with autism get familiarized with the typical steps of a traffic stop.

Fusaro said the Project Lifesaver program is just one example of how public safety agencies now use technology to help first responders do their jobs better and make the community safer.

“In this case, it could locate an elderly person or a child who wanders off,” Fusaro added. “This is a good use of technology. There’s other things that we’ve leveraged to assist us doing our jobs, and this is just one of these many things, and I think it’s great for the community.”

People who can’t make the Sept. 30 event but want more information on the Project Lifesaver program can call the center at (860) 441-6785.