Young Zeke Hayes carried on a family tradition when he graduated July 21 from the Upper Arlington Police Division's latest Safety Town class.

Nothing unusual -- except for 6-year-old Zeke, that meant a cross-country trip from the family's home near Los Angeles.

Officer E.J. Windham, who led this year's Safety Town program, said many of the children now taking the course are second-generation Safety Town students.

"The kids learn, 'My parents did this when they were my age,' " Windham said. "It's important they see their parents were part of this."

For Zeke, the tradition extends beyond his 8-year-old sister, Charley, who participated in Safety Town three years ago, to his father, Bob, and his uncles, Jeff, John and Billy Hayes.

"My husband (Bob) is from Upper Arlington and he and his three brothers went through Safety Town about 40 years ago," said Carrie Hayes, Zeke's mother. "His mother was adamant that they go through it."

Even though they now live more than 2,000 miles away, Carrie Hayes said there was no question they'd return to Upper Arlington so Zeke could take part in the program.

So, she, her daughter and son carved out a family vacation around the Safety Town schedule.

"It just teaches our kids to make smart decisions with all aspects of safety," she said. "I just felt it was so important for them to be given that information and knowledge at such a young age.

"My husband still remembers it vividly and my daughter brings up things she learned all the time. It's empowering kids to make good decisions and I think it's lifelong knowledge."

Carrie Hayes said business obligations prevented her husband from spending the past two weeks in Upper Arlington, but he took a red-eye flight from LA to Columbus so he could be at the July 21 Safety Town graduation.

Since 1971, the UAPD has hosted Safety Town, a two-week program instructing children ages 5 to 7 on everything from how to stay safe crossing the street and when in the water, to avoiding dangerous substances and the roles of law enforcement officers and firefighters in communities.

The program serves about 450 children a year.

"Every day is a new form of how to be safe," Windham said. "It's learning police officers are your friends, it's how to communicate, how to get along with others, how to work through diversity.

"It seems to be a strong program that meets the needs of our community -- and it seems to be a program people look forward to every year."

Carrie Hayes said few communities she's visited have a program like Safety Town that is so popular among children and supported by parents and grandparents.

"A lot of people never travel globally like we do, but once you leave, you really learn Upper Arlington is a special place and it will always be home to us," she said.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate