ENCINITAS — Jerry Jerome and Leslie Echter stand on either side Vulcan Avenue, near the crosswalk that leads to Paul Ecke Central Elementary, both donning highlighter-yellow vests and blue jackets.
In the background, a white sedan with yellow flashing lights sits parked in the narrow parking strip.
Drivers approach the crosswalk in either direction, and upon seeing the bright vests and flashing lights, slow their speeds to accommodate the parents toting their children to school.
This is the job that Jerome, Echter and members of the Encinitas Sheriff’s Senior Volunteer Patrol have done since the beginning of the calendar year, part of an interim effort to slow down traffic that had been endangering students and their parents at the elementary school for some time.
“People along Vulcan Avenue see the flashing lights and they automatically slow down, and that makes me feel good,” Jerome said. “I’d like to think we are making a difference.”
Every morning, a pair of volunteer patrol members will arrive at the school at 7:30 a.m. and stay until 8 a.m. to assist the crossing guards and ensure vehicles allow for people to cross the street.
Before their arrival, Paul Ecke Central’s own safety patrol members said that drivers would totally disregard them and speed past the school well above the post 25-miles-per-hour speed limit. Now, when they see the volunteer patrol vehicle, they slow down.
“They have been a major help,” Christine Andrade said a few months ago. “Ever since they’ve come you can see that drivers are minding their speeds a little better.”
Helping to calm traffic at Paul Ecke Central is only one of the functions of the Sheriff’s Volunteer Patrol, which has about 40 members in the Encinitas Sheriff’s station that perform tasks throughout the station’s service area, which includes Solana Beach, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe and the surrounding unincorporated communities.
The volunteers — all over the age of 50 and none with any formal public safety experience — handle a number of the duties that free up sworn deputies to handle more important functions, including crowd control at large events, delivering documents from the sheriff’s station to the courthouse and back, taking sheriff’s vehicles in for maintenance.
“I think our most important function is that we keep the deputies on the beat,” Jerome said.
In addition, the volunteer patrol has two other functions that provide a key public service that the public rarely hears about, said Larry Peetoom, who heads the Encinitas chapter. The first is a “vacation check” program, where the volunteers will daily check on the homes of people on vacation to ensure they haven’t been vandalized or broken into.
The second is a program called “You Are Not Alone,” which provides volunteer assistance to seniors who live at home with limited mobility. They check in with the seniors by phone once a day and visit them at home once a week.
“Sometimes, the volunteer is the only personal interaction the senior will have in a day, so in that sense the work is really rewarding,” Peetoom said.
Both the vacation check and You Are Not Alone Program are free of charge.
Peetoom said the volunteer patrol is always looking for additional members. Interested persons must be over 50, a U.S. Citizen, pass a background check and be able to work at least one six- to seven-hour shift each week.
Echter, who has volunteered in a number of capacities, said the best thing about the program is the ability to serve the community where you live.
“You really feel like you have made a difference,” she said, as the cars slow down as they approach the crosswalk. “You feel you are really helping your community.”
Seniors interested in signing up for the patrol or residents interested in any of the services can call the volunteer patrol line at (760) 966-3579.