Safety Advocate at UCPD to receive National Achievement Award

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Timika Hoffman–Zoller’s career as a crusader for safety began when her daughter was born.

Twelve years later, she will be honored with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Citizen Corps Achievement Award. Hoffman–Zoller is one of three winners who will visit Washington, D.C. on Sept. 22–23 to receive the award, which previously had been given only to groups.

“It was motherhood that turned me instantly into the ‘mega worrier,’” said Hoffman–Zoller, a project assistant for the University of Chicago Police Department. As she and her husband drove their daughter home from the hospital, Hoffman–Zoller became aware of the dangers in their apartment, including electrical outlets and places to fall.

Sensing that other parents might be eager for advice on how to keep their children safe at home, she formed a mom–and–tot group of about 20 first–time mothers and fathers. “I invited experts on how to baby–proof your home and set up infant CPR classes. Soon our group of stress–drenched, new parents evolved into a crew of prepared, empowered ones.”

She encouraged other young parents to respond to emergencies with confidence. In the process of helping others, she eased her own anxieties. “That time in my life, unbeknownst to me, was what led me down the path of becoming a volunteer First Responder, and has driven me to continue promoting safety awareness and emergency preparedness,” she said.

Her FEMA recognition will include a Sept. 22 tour of the White House and an opportunity to share her experiences as part of two roundtable discussions on promoting safety and emergency preparedness. The following day, she and others will attend a Capitol Hill reception to meet with select Congressmen and staff members.

As part of her job with UCPD, Hoffman–Zoller helps manage the department’s contact with the public, maintains the department’s Twitter account and designs safety flyers, which give tips on avoiding pickpockets and thieves. “Safety is my passion,” she said from her desk at the UCPD headquarters on 61st Street.

She is also an on–call emergency First Responder with the University of Chicago First Responder Corps, a group that includes students and others trained to deal with emergencies on campus.

“Timika takes great pride her in efforts regarding safety and security. She is constantly volunteering her time to promote safety initiatives in as many venues as possible,” said Marlon Lynch, Associate Vice President for Safety and Security and Chief of Police at the University. “I am glad to see that she is receiving this type of recognition. It is well–deserved.”

Hoffman–Zoller uses a website with a motto “Don’t be scared…Be prepared” to promote her message. She has nearly 400 followers on Twitter to whom she sends safety tips.

She also shares her message as a host of the WHKP radio program, “On the Safe Side,” which includes conversations about bike and park safety, among other topics.

She provides pamphlets and literature on emergency preparedness to coworkers, neighbors and friends, and she makes regular stops at Ald. Toni Preckwinkle’s office to drop off supplies.

As part of her own preparedness, Hoffman–Zoller has joined the City of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication’s Community Emergency Response Team. Hoffman–Zoller, a Red Cross Certified Emergency Responder, has participated in mock disaster training at Midway Airport and learned how to effectively respond in search–and–rescue missions in such disasters as airplane crashes.

Hoffman–Zoller took her safety campaign to her neighborhood last summer when she organized a park advisory council for Elm Park, a play lot at 5215 S. Woodlawn Ave. near her home. “I got involved after my daughter said, ‘Mom, why don’t any kids play in that park?’”

The area was frequented by men, many of whom she believed were homeless. Neighbors complained about alcoholics and apparent drug dealers, who also were frequent visitors.

Hoffman–Zoller organized a neighborhood watch committee meeting so neighbors could learn about crime in the area, learn crime prevention tips and meet with local police officers. She quickly assembled a group of volunteers for a park council and became its president.

Through the group’s efforts, the Chicago Park District has worked to clean up the area, the police have increased patrols to discourage unwanted people from congregating there, and the lights have come on at dusk — a measure that further promotes safety.

Now instead of being a place to loiter, the park is a play area for families. Hoffman–Zoller has helped organize a neighborhood picnic, a safety clinic and hopes that the park becomes a place for story–tellers to come as well to entertain children.

“I want everyone to be safe and to enjoy the park for what it was meant to be,” she said.

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