KENNEWICK -- For the past year, kids in the Tri-Cities have been learning traffic and bicycle safety at a miniature city inside Columbia Center mall.
But Cooper's Corner isn't reaching as many children as officials would like. There aren't enough volunteers to run it.
"I had the idea of, 'Build it and they will come,' and I was wrong," said Kennewick police Sgt. Ken Lattin.
The kids have shown up, but not the volunteers.
For now, Cooper's Corner is open about two days a week, but the goal is to operate every day.
So far this year, 1,076 kids have gone through Cooper's Corner, which opened in July 2009.
The traffic safety education center is named in memory of Cooper Jones, a 13-year-old Spokane boy killed during a sanctioned bike race in 1997.
His parents, David and Martha Jones, have lobbied for changes to laws and attitudes about bicycle and pedestrian safety since his death.
"We owe it to his legacy to make sure that continues forward," David Jones said Thursday.
The Cooper's Corner in Kennewick is the state's second -- the first is in Spokane -- and uses hands-on activities and interactive exhibits that allow children to learn while playing.
The cartoonlike town is set up to resemble the Tri-Cities and even has a replica of the cable bridge. It has working traffic signals, crosswalk lights and railroad crossings.
Parents are supposed to take their kids on the self-guided tour, learning about different safety issues as they navigate through town.
Rosy Anderson of West Richland was there for the second time Thursday with her son Daniel, 3.
"I think it's a great idea," Anderson said. "He runs past the play area (nearby in the mall) to see if it's open. He's at the age where he gets the concept of following the arrows (on the miniature roads)."
Places like Cooper's Corner help kids start to learn about traffic safety when they're young, and if it the lessons are repeated and the behavior is modeled by their parents, by the time they're driving, it will be automatic, Jones said.
And because parents go through the town with their kids, it also reminds parents about proper traffic safety.
Jones said parents need to look at themselves, their children and grandchildren and ask what's best for them.
"They want (the kids) to know what to do and hope others know what to do to act responsibly ... act in a way that doesn't put others at harm," he said.
The community helped create Cooper's Corner by donating time, materials and money to augment a $40,000 Washington Traffic Safety Commission grant.
Now the community needs to help make sure the place gets used, Lattin said.
"For a volunteer, this is so easy," he said.
Ideally two volunteers are on at a time to check children and parents in, watch the security cameras from the desk to make sure everything's going smoothly and ensure children leave with their parents, Lattin said.
Volunteers can sign up for every day or for a couple hours once a month -- any level of commitment is welcome, Lattin said.
Applications for volunteers, who must be at least 18, can be picked up at Cooper's Corner in the north end of the mall near JCPenney.
Volunteers can also download the CHIPS volunteer application online at www.ci.kennewick.wa.us.
* Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org