University Area neighbors are now issuing a plea for volunteers to help protect kids walking dark streets to school.
Many of the students at Mort Elementary have to walk to school. There are few sidewalks and streetlights in the neighborhood. Often, kids as young as kindergarteners are walking as early as 6:30 a.m.
Now, volunteers through the Walking School Bus Program are helping "pick up" kids from home to home and helping them walk together in a group. The effort is designed to provide more visibility and safety in numbers.
"I'm a mom and I wouldn't let them walk themselves to school," said Lashanda Copeland, a Walking School Bus Volunteer and Mort Elementary Parent. "It's too dark. Where we live at, kids get hit by cars if they don't see them and you don't know who is around you."
The University Area Community Development Corporation helps sponsor and organize the Walking School Bus Program and said it makes a real difference in kids' security getting to class.
"Safety comes first," said Ronnie Oliver with the UACDC. "We always make sure the kids are safely crossing the street and also getting to school. In groups, the kids can project each other."
People who live in the neighborhood say many of the kids have had near misses with distracted drivers.
"It's very very dangerous," said Joan Fischer, who lives in the University Area.
One of the most dangerous areas is when kids go to cross Bearss Avenue, a very busy road, neighbors said.
"Won't even stop or slow down," Fischer said, referring to the passing cars.
But now, many kids who would like to be a part of the Walking School Bus program have been put on a waiting list because there simply aren't enough volunteers to walk with them.
Volunteers are needed to both pick kids up in the morning and walk them to school but also to pick them up from school and walk with them home, Oliver said.
Copeland said this program has helped keep her own kids protected and get to know their own community.
"We're not just the walk to school bus," she said. "We're a family."
If you would like to learn more about becoming a Walking School Bus volunteer, please contact Ronnie Oliver at the University Area Community Development Corporation at 813-558-5212.
Any volunteer accepted needs to pass a Hillsborough County School District background check, Oliver said.