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A Great Idea, but a Real No-Brainer

Fast, Free, Painless and Mobile: Masons' High-Tech Identification Service Rolls Into Schools


PORT HUENEME — At first, 5-year-old Avery Herring wasn't all that impressed with the new identification program unveiled last week at Hueneme Elementary School.

Sure, he thought it was kind of cool that members of the Masonic Lodge were able to copy his fingerprints using a laser scanner rather than messy ink. And he liked the digital camera that captured his image without using film.

But the kindergartner was hoping for a bit more out of all the high-tech gadgetry hauled in for the program.

"Where's my brain? I want to see my brain," Avery implored Bill Anders, an Oxnard Mason tapping away at a laptop computer to produce a certificate bearing the youngster's photo and fingerprints.

But Avery ended up satisfied with the finished product.

"It's awesome," he said. "My mom is going to like it."

As part of a statewide effort by the Grand Lodge of California, members of Masonic Lodge 341 provided free fingerprinting and photo identification last week to children at Port Hueneme schools.

And they hope to expand the program to other schools in Port Hueneme and surrounding districts.

Using equipment on loan from the service club's headquarters, the Oxnard and Port Hueneme Masons produced identification certificates they hoped parents would hang on to.

"We want parents to have these on file at home so that in case their children are missing, they have photos and fingerprints they can turn over to law enforcement officials," said Port Hueneme resident Louis Vann, a longtime Mason who spearheaded the local identification program.

"It's like a life insurance policy," he said. "You hope you never have to use it but it's nice to know it's there."

With more than 1 million children reported missing nationwide each year, law enforcement agencies and community groups across the state and the country have long used fingerprinting and photo campaigns to help authorities search for lost or kidnapped children.

Just two months ago, America's Tire Co. of Westlake Village sponsored a program at the Simi Valley Days Car Show as part of a nationwide effort to provide parents with safety identification kits.

Masonic Lodges across California launched similar programs earlier this year. Locally, several lodges staged the public service program for the first time last summer, setting up shop at the Ventura County Fair.

That was when Vann got the idea of taking the program into the schools.

Last week, he and other volunteers photographed and fingerprinted about 200 youngsters at Bard, Hueneme and Williams schools in the Hueneme Elementary School District.

The Masons also provided the service to about 20 preschoolers at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Port Hueneme, where Vann is an elder.

"I got a call from the district office asking whether we would be interested," said Hueneme Elementary Principal Wayne Flaaten, who said he jumped at the opportunity.

Flaaten said that only about half of the 100 kindergartners at his school signed up to take advantage of the free program.

That included 5-year-old Angelina Vasquez, whose mother was impressed with the identification certificate she got Wednesday morning when she arrived to pick up her daughter.

"I think it's a good idea," Sara Vasquez said. "And it's free, so that makes it even better."

Kindergarten teacher Lynne Porter, an educator in the Hueneme district for 35 years, said many parents had questions about the program.

Some worried that the pictures would somehow end up on the Internet, Porter said, while others wondered why they couldn't just go down to the Police Department to participate in the program.

"It's just scary to think that this kind of thing needs to be done," Porter said, watching her 5-year-old charges leave school for the day.

Vann says he understands parents' concerns, but said there is no way the prints and photos will end up in the wrong hands. Once a certificate is printed, he said, the information is wiped out of the computer.

Over time, he said, he believes that parents and teachers will grow more comfortable with what the service organization is trying to do.

"When I was a kid, nobody knew what locking the door was," said the 72-year-old Vann, a former Port Hueneme planning commissioner. "It's sad we have to do this. But we want to help parents protect their children."

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