Project Lifesaver gives 'peace of mind'
Michael Rusch enjoyed recess so much that he sometimes tried to extend it by hiding in the woods behind his school.
After Michael, now 11, got lost, his family decided to join a program the Wood County Sheriff’s Department started in 2006 to help residents keep track of their potentially vulnerable loved ones.
Michael, who has autism, became one of the first participants in Wood County’s Project Lifesaver. It provides signal-emitting bracelets that children and adults at risk of wandering can wear, so loved ones or caregivers can find them should they become lost.
“It gives us peace of mind,” said Michael’s mother, Jessica Rusch of Vesper. “I think it’s an excellent program. I wish they would have had it sooner.”
County officials hope more residents who can be helped by the program start participating.
Michael is one of the people Deputy Sarah McCormick oversees as the administrator of Wood County’s program, which currently serves 11 participants — seven children and four adults. Although no one is turned away for financial reasons, clients are asked to pay $30 a month to help cover costs.
Authorities screen applicants to determine eligibility: Participants must be at risk to wander off because of conditions such as autism or dementia.
The program doesn’t use county taxpayer dollars.
Last summer, Autism Impact, a nonprofit group started by Tim and Heather McKellips of Wisconsin Rapids, donated $7,600 to Wood County’s program to purchase equipment, including additional receivers. When a child or adult being monitored goes missing, authorities use the receivers, which pick up signals sent out by the bracelets, to find the missing person.
Wood County has five receivers, which enable officers to locate a missing person in all parts of the county.
One family has contacted Wood County about a missing child, McCormick said, but family members found the child prior to the county arriving with search equipment.
All the counties in central Wisconsin have Project Lifesaver programs, McCormick said. She encourages the family of children or adults wearing the monitors to contact her when they know they’ll be traveling. Many times, there’s a program families can use in areas they visit. If a child is lost, the local program administrators can contact the family’s home county to get the bracelet’s frequency.
Project Lifesaver benefits the public, said Wood County Sheriff Thomas Reichert, who encourages people who have family members at risk of wandering to consider joining.