CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- These white pickup trucks are called the "angels" of West Virginia's roadways for anyone who has vehicle trouble or needs accurate directions.
For 15 years, members of the West Virginia Courtesy Patrol have been helping stranded motorists who need gasoline, a new tire or other roadside assistance. The Courtesy Patrol, a welfare-to-work initiative, assists people in 25 "zones," totaling about 810 miles of state roadway -- eight interstates and five corridors. Its members are on call 24/7, everyday of the year, including Christmas.
The program has logged approximately 68 million miles and has helped more than 280,000 motorists since it began 15 years ago, said Jennifer Douglas, director of the Courtesy Patrol with the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia.
They've done everything from changing tires and providing free gasoline to offering the use of their cell phone and giving directions to lost tourists. They also stop to remove debris and dead animals from the roadway.
"The Courtesy Patrol has reached a milestone that all of West Virginia can be proud of," Douglas said. "It remains the only program of its kind in the country."
Members of the program have also answered about 2 million phone calls and removed approximately 17,000 items of debris, including more than 8,000 dead deer and about 160 dead bears. Some Courtesy Patrol members have provided emergency medical assistance to about 130 people, including life-saving CPR in at least eight cases.
There are 25 white Ford F-150's in the Courtesy Patrol's fleet. The drivers must complete training to not only assist stranded motorists, but to also be give directions to tourists.
The Courtesy Patrol hires people identified by their welfare caseworkers for participation in one of the state's welfare-to-work programs. Douglas said the program is instrumental in helping welfare recipients make the transition to full-time employment. Several of its participants have received AmeriCorps education awards to attend college.