Military member creates larger-than-life animal character to save kids’ lives

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brandon Kalloo Sanes
  • 920th Recue Wing

Move over Mickey Mouse, Carl the Safety Bear is here to spread a message of goodwill and spotlight safety in Seminole County.

With animal memes exploding all over the internet and a famous mouse at the forefront of Florida’s most-visited destination, it only made sense for the Seminole County Sherriff’s School Crossing Guard director, Jo Jo Sturm, to hatch a plan for an animal personality to help market their safety program.

Sturm found just the right person to meld her idea of creating a larger-than-life huggable bear modeled after her late father, a military veteran, to represent safety.

Staff Sgt. Roberto E. Maisonave, a client systems technician with the 920th Mission Support Group Communications Flight, was happy to help by using design skills he learned while studying illustration at a school for art and design.

Carl the Safety Bear is a lifelike cartoon equipped with a brightly colored vest and traffic sign proudly serving as goodwill ambassador and a crosswalk safety guru.

“I wanted to do something for their program,” said Maisonave. “Crossing guards work very hard. I felt like I needed to give back.”

Maisonave’s wife Dacia, a Seminole County crossing guard, recommended her husband after the department expressed a desire to develop a signature mascot as part of a new safety initiative that would resonate with children.

“I thought we needed a safety program of some sort,” said Sturm. “If we teach kids to use traffic signs and crosswalks properly, we can reduce injuries and fatalities.”

Sturm and Maisonave said because they are both perfectionists there was a lot of back and forth between them before they finally decided on Carl’s design.

“I like the way he came out,” said Maisonave. “The kids love him. He exudes this big lovable character.”

Since Carl’s materialization, the program has hit a few milestones by reaching children in schools, libraries and bike rodeos nationwide.

Due to Carl, “The last four out of five years our team was named Crossing Guard Program of the Year by the Florida Department of Transportation,” said Sturm.

Sturm said that they use Carl to provide children with rational safety guidelines as a part of their teaching strategy.

The program does more than teach children to look both ways before crossing roads, they also provide them with safety equipment. Their staff has given out over 800 bicycle helmets to the local community in recent years.

“My goal has been accomplished,” said Maisonave. “I know that my wife and the program are using the mascot effectively at local schools. It helps them communicate their message.”

Sturm said she attributes a lot of the program’s success to Maisonave’s efforts and that she appreciates his contribution.