We are not alone!

By Patrick M. Chierichella

Educational Coordinator, The Rose Brucia Educational Foundation


I was born a while ago in 1944. My generation is called either “war babies” or “the silent generation,” people who do not like to rock the boat. Seriously? Status quo types! Don’t question! Toe the line! Are they talking about me? Do the talking heads even know us?

Television was in its infancy. Pre-dinner shows consisted of Howdy Doody, Hopalong Cassidy, and serials. Of particular interest to me were those cliffhangers emanating from the cathode ray tube depicting the perils and derring-do of Flash Gordon. Even then, I knew (I saw it on TV, for goodness sake!) there was life out there. Sci-fi movie themes of the 50’s saw our world threatened by the inhabitants of Mars, by some creature named “It”  that came from Outer Space, by “The Thing” , and of course by weird aliens in flying saucers! We knew we were not alone! Tacky, cheesy, and, of course, hyperbolic promotions inflamed imaginations to bring us all to the movies week after week to see the only plausible outcome for the human race: our survival and the defeat of all comers.

I’ve been fully involved with the Rose Brucia Educational Foundation for almost 4 years. We have the financial backing of many individuals through our fund raisers; if not for their generosity and belief in us, we could not attempt to fulfill our mission. During that time, I’ve worked with resolute individuals to help craft a curriculum of which I feel justifiably proud. Our educational format is non-pareil, truly unique. With little prep time, any organization, any school can take our lessons with the attendant lesson plans and provide introduction and/or reinforcement of stranger safety awareness principles and skills. Furthermore, I and my colleagues are confident that because our efforts are proactive, children will be better prepared to deal with avoiding abduction. We estimate five lessons per grade, lasting approximately 20-30 minutes per lesson (dependent on the depth the teacher pursues), would entail a maximum of 100 minutes for the entire school year. Consider the school year and remove days for national/state/local testing, field trips, etc., and you are probably left with 150 instructional days. School lasts at least 6 hours daily, or 360 minutes. Multiply 150 by 360 and you get 54,000 minutes of instruction.  We believe this instruction will use up 1/540 of an educational year, or 1/10 of 1 percent of instructional time.

Here’s my problem. Until very recently, I have been awash in a sea of desperation concerning our program. Parents and educators are swamped with demands for quality time, focused learning experiences and performance demands on state and national tests. I appreciate the issues particular to their world. At the foundation, we score daily hits for downloads of our program. There is, as you would imagine, a noticeable spike in hits on our site the day of and the days after a kidnapping or an attempted abduction. There is nothing wrong with this. I’m just impatient to get our program out there. My enthusiasm gets drained by the disregard for our program. Sometimes I think we are carrying our own good fight in our own little bit of the country. Who knows about us? Who sees us as useful, necessary beyond family, our volunteers and our friends?

Yes, there are individual schools that invite us to present our lessons – over 50 districts locally. Schools in Sachem, Connetquot, Brentwood, South Manor, Great Neck, West Islip, Patchogue, Deer Park, the Bronx, to name a few,  and one in New Jersey near a location with a rash of attempted abductions last November have asked us repeatedly to come into the school. We go. The Girls Scouts of Suffolk County have asked us to present. We have done so at Camp Edie this past summer and during Spring Recess this year. We are preparing a needs assessment document for them to show the validity of our program.

We all read, see or hear the stories. Names of taken children stain the news with too regular a pattern. I feel for Matt and his/our mission. Sometimes it feels like my head is banging against a brick wall. I thought we are supposed to learn from our past, especially our past mistakes. Isn’t that taste of ashes in our mouths supposed to drive us to make the present better? I have to argue with yesterday’s futurists, with Edgar Rice Burroughs, with Arthur C. Clarke, with Isaac Asimov, with Carl Sagan: I do not care about the mathematical probability of life OUT THERE, HERE the Rose Brucia Educational Foundation is ALONE!

Or, at least that is how I felt until Saturday, April 20, 2013. This is now a very special day for me, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. This is the day when I, along with my wife, Kate, realized the Rose Brucia Educational Foundation is most certainly NOT ALONE!

Patricia (Pat) Abrams is the team leader of the Sarasota K-9 Search & Rescue, www.http://k-9sar.net, in that Gulf Coast city. Pat and her husband, Joe, moved to Florida 24 years ago from northern New Jersey. They established this wonderful, dedicated and honored group 23 years ago as a way of dealing with their own personal introduction to the horrors of strangers and child abduction.  Their mission is to locate the missing, educate all parties regarding safety and build a professional partnership with all agencies to assure a successful outcome in the community. The K-9 group was sponsoring a family day, K-9s 4 Kids, A Child Safety Event, on Saturday April 20th. Pat asked if the Rose Brucia Educational Foundation would like to come to the event. I told Matt my wife, Kate and I were definitely going to be there, that we would represent our group. Loaded with coloring books, pins and our videos, Kate and I flew to Tampa and then headed south to Sarasota.

It is important for all to understand just what this invitation meant. Pat and her group were called out after Carlie was abducted. They were charged with following all possible leads. When the Sarasota Police Department had a lead on a possible burial site for Carlie, Pat’s K-9 group was called to the large site of the Central Church of Christ on Proctor Road in Sarasota. One of the group’s volunteers, Wes Weysham, was searching the area. His dog lay down near a plot of freshly disturbed earth. A once hopeful rescue mission became a recovery mission.

There was no reason on Earth for us not to attend. It would be an honor to meet Pat, Joe and others in this group.

I hope I can be as hospitable as the people I met at this event. I had called Pat Friday evening and offered our help the next morning before the event. As if it was needed! Arriving at the site in Nokomis, FL , we were unsure about the parking area. A truck pulls up next to us and the driver (I later found his name, Justin Colburn) asks if he could help us. He looks at me, looks at my shirt and says, “You’re the Rose Brucia people. Are we ever glad to meet you! We’re glad you could make it.”

We were introduced to a human dynamo by the name of Pat Abrams. Warm hugs were given to Kate and me. A handshake from Joe Abrams confirmed the obvious strength he had; you saw the type of man you wanted in your corner, one to have your back. Names and handshakes came at us from every direction. Astoundingly, we kept hearing the same message: You do not know what an honor it is to meet you. Kate and I were nonplussed. US? We represent a small organization hoping to get some traction and spread our program from Long Island into schools and organizations throughout the USA. Yet, we were at their event and they were thrilled someone from Rose Brucia was there.

Pat showed us a table from where we could distribute our information. Pat even asked me to say a few words at the beginning of the day’s happenings. A polite round of applause was followed by a day of steady conversation with so many attendees. There were 11 groups gathered in an educational center for this event: the Sarasota County 911 Call Center, Florida Forest Service, Sarasota Fire Department, Ambulances, Sarasota County School Resource Officers, Animal Services, K-9 Search and Rescue, Manatee Gun Club (child safety around guns), Healthy Choices for children, a wellness and neonatal information unit from the local hospital, Chick-fil-A, and Rose Brucia. Members of each group took time to meet us and talk about our program. Is it possible that each person was nicer than the previous one? It sure seemed that way.

Then there were the dogs! And what fantastic animals!  Different breeds, big dogs, medium sized dogs, veterans of years of search and rescue work now retired to act as therapy dogs, rookies to the program still in training, but each bonded to his/her handler! At announced times there were demonstrations: working dogs from the K-9 Search and Rescue, Fire Marshalls’, the County Sheriff’s Office, from Fish and Wildlife, each with a specific task and every animal demonstrating its skills.

Parents, teachers, members of a homeschool support group, and relatives who thought their family would use our program, they all eagerly listened to Kate and I talk about our Foundation, its mission and its delivery method. They liked what they heard. They especially appreciated that all our materials are available for free. DVDs for free? How many may I take? To a person, each recognized the need for stranger safety awareness. They also thought the use of puppets a valuable non-threatening teaching method. We didn’t make converts, but made new associates.

For a while it felt as if we were caught in some adult version of a Berenstain Bear story: of the place we went, oh the people we met. People such as Fr. Arnold Zebrowski of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Venice, Chief Marshall Ed McCrane of the Sarasota Emergency Services Division, Detective J. Szalbirak, Deputy Larry Dagnon, Deputy K. Szalbirak, Jeff Mangrum of Chick-fil-A, Tami Treadway and Wes Weysham, and  Cyndi O’Neill.

As the afternoon passed, Pat Abrams came to me and asked if I would fill in for the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Resource Officers who were scheduled to teach a Stranger Danger lesson. Five minutes to show time! Kate looked at me, then at Pat and said, “He’ll do it. It will be fine.” She was right. All I had to do was select pieces from lessons that Matt and I had developed this past year. The best was glimpsing the parents behind the audience of youngsters. Nodding heads, smiles, and laughter at the appropriate time meant I was doing something right. Rose Brucia was a hit! Moreover, Pat Abrams liked our program, loved our teaching style and wanted to partner with us in our endeavor to prevent child abductions. I was stunned. I mean, this Florida organization, with a generation of honorable work under its belt, with its history of helping families reunite or to reach closure, an organization recognized throughout Florida on a local and state level, this organization wants us involved with them!

A phone call several weeks ago allowed me insight into the Pat and Joe Abrams. Let’s see what words I can use to describe them: resolute, driven, caring, empathetic, kind, compassionate, outgoing, funny, tired, friendly, intelligent and amazingly creative. You see that and you feel that in their presence, an unpublicized power couple. Pat is an author of books written for children about the work of K-9 dogs see knew. Written from the dog’s perspective, Pat provides a wonderful hook to get children to read (ah, those English Language Arts lessons) while teaching valuable lessons in stranger safety awareness.  So far, three books have been published: Noah and the Search Dogs, The Story of Boo, and The Story of Tracker. Each story concerns a different team of the Sarasota K-9 Search and Rescue group. I’ve read them and have given them to my grandchildren to read. Filled with photographs of the dogs at work and with their handlers, these alone will pull the children through the pages. A fourth is in the offing. A seven book series is planned. A Long Island principal recently reviewed the books and loved them, noting the vocabulary and structure suitable for 3rd grade and even strong 2nd grade readers.

At a dinner the night of the event, Pat, Joe, Kate, I, Tami and Wes, Cyndi and her husband, Ed and his wife, and Jeff Mangrum talked of the past that united us and the true fellowship the day generated. We heard stories of remarkable determination, funny vignettes about the dogs in the group, poignant memories of recovery operations. As I looked around the table, I thought back my teaching years. After I retired, my district asked me if I wished to come back and take over for a person they had let go. With some hesitation I said yes. I met a group of 9th and 10th graders that became one of my all-time favorite classes. After my career was seemingly over, I get treated to this unexpected present. Similarly, in my golden years I meet a band of wonderful people who feel as I do. They want us to journey with them. They have my attention and respect.

As dinner was ending, Pat said there would be a small presentation to Kate and I for the Foundation. Jeff Mangrum (After spending the day next to his table at the event, I realized you would see his picture in the dictionary next to the word selfless.) spoke of our organizations sister missions, of looking into the hearts of everyone and seeking their goodness. He presented us with a clock he had made from a cypress tree he had cut. This gnarly piece of lacquered wood shone with an amber brilliance. He had attached plastic/ceramic roses to it to symbolize our group and, at the bottom of the piece, had added a ceramic cross with lettering citing a quote from Isaiah. He said if we went to the burial site we would see this passage inscribed on a granite block. (That is another story for another day.)

Felix J. Palma wrote, Perhaps love that a human being can generate is exclusively his own and will die with him. After that the universe, despite its unfathomable vastness, its apparent infinity, will no longer be complete.

Loss diminishes us all. The loss of a child numbs us, brings us to our knees, but rather than making us capitulate to grief, to become isolated, it can force us to rise and reach out for the hands of fellow human beings.

We are not alone.


About The Rose Brucia Educational Foundation
Founded by Matthew J. Barbis after his 11-year-old cousin, Carlie Brucia, was abducted and murdered in Sarasota, FL in 2004. The Rose Brucia Educational Foundation’s goal is to reduce the number of child abductions in the U.S. by educating and empowering young minds with the knowledge necessary to avoid abduction. Utilizing puppets and a formalized educational curriculum, the foundation provides elementary-aged children with the Stranger Safety Awareness Program, free of charge. The Rose Brucia Educational Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

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