By: Dorothy Markulis
G.A.S.P. began its mission to protect children in 2006 with the name Grandparents Against Sexual Predators and it is continuing that mission with a slight name change: Guardians Advocating Child Safety and Protection.
“We’re still GASP but the C for children is silent – we speak for them,” said GASP Director Debbie Reiss. “We wanted to change the name for a couple of reasons,” she said. “The name grandparents was very restricting. People thought if they weren’t grandparents they couldn’t participate. The name was not encompassing enough.”
Reiss said they wanted to keep the GASP name to honor Fran Doll, its founder, who started the group after the abduction, rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl in Florida in 2005.
“Fran said she gasped when she heard the news,” Reiss explained.
Another reason for the name change was the negative reaction GASP experienced because of the word sex predators in the name.
“We weren’t allowed in the schools and we weren’t getting any grants,” Reiss said.
The mission hasn’t changed but the scope of GASP’s community involvement has grown and grown, according to Reiss.
The group offers trained search teams for missing children and adults, fingerprinting and child identification computer discs, a speakers bureau providing education on identifying and dealing with inappropriate behavior, trained court room observers making their presence known to judges, attorneys and predators; neighborhood safety patrols and assistance with scanning and updating of local sex offenders records.
“We have produced 12,000 identification discs, touching 30,000 people,” Reiss said.
She said the key to child protection is education and prevention.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a fabulous organization,” she said.
The group started with a handful of volunteers and has grown to a roster of 180 volunteers. With the increased efforts of the group, more volunteers are always needed and welcomed.
Volunteers are needed for court room observation, the education/speakers’ bureau, fingerprinting of children, fund raising and special events, grant writing, publicity, scanning and updating sex predators’ files, search teams and safety patrols, social network monitoring and the telephone committee.
“How can you not help a child?” Reiss asked.
The statistics on missing children is staggering.
“There are 200,000 children that go missing each year in the United States,” Reiss said.
Another disturbing fact, according to Reiss, is that one out of every four girls and one out of every seven boys will be sexually molested before they are 18-years-old.
“Was this going on before? Yes, it was always going on but people didn’t talk about it,” Reiss said. “It was a silent epidemic but people are speaking out now.”
GASP is funded by grants and donations. It has two major fundraisers each year. An annual fall luncheon is coming up Oct. 9 at the Portage Country Club, to which the public is invited. The group also hosts a spring dinner fundraiser.
“We also sell entertainment books,” Reiss said.
And of course, monetary donations are always accepted. They can be made online at the website or by mail to the GASP office at 53 University Avenue, Fourth Floor, Akron, Ohio 44308.
GASP works hand-in-hand with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office which conducts stringent background checks on all volunteers. The sheriff’s office also provides training for search teams.
“I was around when GASP began,” said Summit County Sheriff’s Office Inspector Bill Holland. “We have a good working relationship with the group.”
Holland said the group offers a valuable resource if a child goes missing.
“Manpower is always stretched thin when you’re searching for a child but the trained GASP volunteers hit the ground running,” he said.
“Thankfully we have not had to use them to search for a child, and hopefully, we will never have to. But GASP has gone beyond searching for missing children with their fingerprinting and other educational programs. They are very valuable to the community.”
For more information on any of its programs, contact GASP at 330-247-1402 or visit the GASP website at http://www.gaspohio.org.