Troubled youths in Tucson, Ariz., have an official place to go for help by boarding Sun Tran buses, after the public transit agency became a partner in the nationally acclaimed youth outreach program, Project Safe Place.
Sun Tran initiated the project along with Open Inn, one of Arizona’s oldest providers of non-profit services for homeless and runaway children and teens.
Open Inn approached Sun Trans last September about providing transportation to children in need. “This is just another way we feel like we can reach out and be a really good community partner,” said Michele Joseph, director of marketing for Sun Tran.
As part of the program, the agency’s 189 buses provide free rides to troubled children during route hours from 5 a.m. to midnight. When a child asks a Sun Tran driver for help, the driver immediately radios the dispatch center, where a dispatcher will call Open Inn’s 24-hour hotline and ask workers to meet the bus at a major bus stop or transit center. After Open Inn’s team meets the child, they can take him or her back to the office to talk to counselors and receive help.
Sun Tran’s drivers have responded well to the partnership. “I’ve talked to some of the drivers who just think it’s wonderful,” said Jenny Sirnio, product manager at Sun Tran and project manager of the program. “One of them is going to talk about it at his son’s school. I think they’re very supportive of our program, and now they have somewhere to call if somebody actually gets on the bus.”
Sun Tran puts on a variety of other fundraisers and events to reach out to Tucson’s community, including toy drives, “Stuff the Bus” fundraisers and a program called Operation: Deep Freeze, where they provide free rides for the homeless to their shelters when the temperature drops below 40 degrees at night.