DELPHOS — Weeks after Nick and Katie Goergens volunteered to look for a young Fort Jennings boy who wandered away from home last May, the couple learned their youngest daughter was on the autism spectrum and at risk to one day go missing herself.
The diagnosis sent the Goergens on a journey to help other parents, and themselves, avoid the tragedy of a missing child.
The couple soon founded Operation Save the Lost, a small non-profit group purchasing tracking devices for families with a child on the autism spectrum so fewer children go missing.
Since Aubreigh’s diagnosis, the Goergens have learned about runners, or children on the autism spectrum who bolt or wander away in search of an object, often a body of water, that has captured their interest.
For Aubreigh, that fascination is the telephone poles and cell towers that run up and down the road, a dangerous fascination for a young child.
“Parents on the outside looking in, who don’t deal with this on a personal level, they look at it as: ‘Where was the mom? Where was the dad? Be responsible. How hard is it to keep track of your kid?’ And it’s not that,” Katie Goergens said. “Things can happen in two seconds.”
The couple has since purchased 13 Jiobit devices, small geo-trackers that clip onto a child’s clothes and alerts parents when their child has bolted out of a designated safe area, which they plan to distribute to families free-of-charge.
The small, water-proof devices, which were originally designed for adults with dementia, sync with smartphones so parents can monitor a child’s whereabouts at any time, even tracing the child’s past steps so parents or first responders can see where a missing child wandered before getting lost.
The Goergens hope to not only prevent future tragedies but to normalize the autism spectrum as something to celebrate rather than stigmatize.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Goergens said. “I think people go through that process, a grieving process like we did when we started this. It’s a journey. You go through this grieving the child you thought you would have to embracing it and being proud of it.”