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Safety Council director pursues longtime dream

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Les Reynolds, 70, said he won't retire until he's realized his dream. Reynolds, who is the executive director for the Safety Council of the Ozarks, has a set of blueprints in his office that detail his dream building a safety education park in the city of Springfield that can be used by children throughout the Ozarks.

The proposed safety education park would expose children to a variety of health and safety issues and teach them how to protect themselves and others from accidental injury or death, Reynolds said. Children would learn about traffic safety, how to get out of their houses in case of fire, and what to do if they are approached by strangers. Children from rural areas also would have the opportunity to learn about the hazards posed by farm machinery.

The 10-acre park is patterned after others in the country, and admission to the park would be free. The Safety Council's board of directors has pledged to find funding for the project once the land has been located, according to Reynolds.

While Reynolds' dream is ambitious, he doesn't believe it's unrealistic. He believes perseverance can conquer almost any obstacle, and he's quick to recount the history of the Safety Council of the Ozarks, which took years to form.

In 1956, while working as a police officer in Springfield, Reynolds was assigned to help increase community awareness of safety issues. Over the next several years, he helped set up several traffic safety programs to reduce preventable injuries and accidental deaths.

It quickly became apparent to city leaders however, that one police officer couldn't handle the diverse needs of the community. According to Reynolds, the city of Springfield and a group of local business leaders tried on three different occasions to establish a safety council but were unsuccessful.

Finally, in 1973, the city received a grant from the Missouri Department of Highway Safety to start a local alcohol-related traffic offenders program and a defensive driving course. The grant provided the seed money needed to start the Safety Council of the Ozarks.

In 1978, Reynolds retired from the police department after 25 years of service and became the Safety Council's executive director. Under Reynolds leadership, the organization has changed significantly.

The Safety Council has gone from being an affiliate of the Missouri Safety Council to a chapter of the National Safety Council a move that was made to help keep excess funds at the local level to develop new programs, Reynolds said.

Affiliating with the National Safety Council in 1986 initiated other internal changes as well. The Safety Council was incorporated and became a nonprofit organization, and the Safety Council's Board of Trustees became a board of directors.

The Safety Council's name also has evolved. Originally, the organization was called the Safety Council of Southwest Missouri, but the name was later changed to the Safety Council of the Ozarks to include members in southwest Missouri and northern Arkansas.

Today, more than 468 businesses and individuals belong to the Safety Council of the Ozarks. However, membership dues account for only $18,000 of the organization's $600,000 yearly budget. Most of the Safety Council's budget is generated through the various training programs and educational conferences it holds, according to Reynolds.

Although the Safety Council's original focus was on driver safety, it has expanded its mission. The organization now offers services in four areas: driver safety and education; community safety and health; occupational safety and health; and drug and alcohol education and screening.

As a whole, the Safety Council offers a wide range of programs and services.

First-aid training, driver's education for high school students, certification as a health and safety specialist, and conferences that allow business leaders to get up-to-date information on health and safety issues are just some of the programs and services provided by the Safety Council through nine full-time employees and 31 subcontractors.

"A lot of what we do, we do for free," Reynolds said. "You don't have to be a member to use our services, but members do receive a discount, and they benefit from being able to access a wealth of training and educational resources from the National Safety Council."

According to Reynolds, staying within budget while providing a broad scope of services is the biggest challenge faced by the Safety Council. The Safety Council also faces the challenge of trying to add new services that meet the changing needs of area residents.

On a personal level, Reynolds still is hoping to meet the biggest challenge of his 21-year career with the Safety Council the safety education park for children. If perseverance really does make the difference, Reynolds just may achieve that dream. [[In-content Ad]]

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