Billboards Save Children
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Billboards Save Children

It’s a statistic that’s hard to swallow: each day, more than 2,000 children are reported missing in the United States. This staggering figure is part of the inspiration behind a new project called Rigs for Kids, a program that turns 18-wheelers into mobile billboards with pictures of missing children.

By Lori Andreozzi

Armed with the fact that one out of every six missing children is found through media, namely billboards, posters, and flyers, a trio of non-profit organizations together with corporate sponsors have joined forces. Child Watch of North America, based in Orlando, Florida, The Puerto Rican Family Institute of New York City, and Operation Lookout Center of Missing Youth in Seattle, Washington operate the program. OTR Media, Shell Oil Products US, Panasonic, and CBS-2 Television are their corporate partners.

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  • Since they began in August, three children have been found and returned to their families. Two of the children are Fernando Robnett and Gabrilla Robnett. Less than one month after being featured on Rigs for Kids Billboards, the Robnett children were found in Las Vegas, Nevada, when someone recognized them on a billboard. Keith Knox, a father of missing child, volunteered at Rigs for Kids event in New York. Shortly after, Kaylee, his daughter was found.

    “It’s great to do the job you’re paid for and help missing children at the same time. Everyone notices the Rigs for Kids billboard on my truck, said Charlie Lampley, a distance trucker for Harry Owen Trucking who recently drove across country with his Rigs for Kids billboard for the first time. “I never realized that more than 2,000 children are reported missing each day. It is time for us all to do something about the issue.” Under the child’s photo is a hotline phone number that’s open 24 hours a day. In addition, Rigs for Kids Mobile Billboards also display the supporter’s logo, tagline, and Website.

    The estimates are that Rigs for Kids mobile billboard reaches greater than 41,000 people each day. The project is based on the finding that people who see mobile billboards have a greater than 97% recall rate. OTR Media, a Kentucky-based mobile billboard company, sponsored 100 moving billboards featuring 10 different missing children to launch the project. The ongoing financial support comes from corporations, foundations, and individuals. Throughout October, the Panasonic Astrovision screen in Times Square broadcast images of ten missing children. “Rigs for Kids takes the idea of milk cartons to a new level… massive! We are excited about being involved with Rigs for Kids Project. Together, with other corporate supporters, we can make a real difference in the lives of children and families. We hope others will get involved with this project and help to bring missing kids home,” said Bill Rooney, Director of the External Affairs Division, Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company, in a Panasonic press release. According to The Puerto Rican Family Institute, missing Latino children within the United States total in excess of 160,000 annually and more than 20% of the children missing in the United States is Latino.

    SignIndustry.com recently corresponded via email with Sheryl Matney, National Project Manager for Rigs for Kids.

    SignIndustry.com:
    Rigs for Kids is such an exciting and important project. How did the idea originally come about?

    Sheryl Matney:
    Early this year, OTR Media Inc., a national mobile billboard company, was looking for a meaningful community service project. OTR sought consultation services from Outcome and Results Consulting, LLC to explore their options. In short, OTR was looking for a project that would enable them to support a meaningful community issue through the utilization of their mobile billboards. As you can imagine, the possibilities were endless.

    During the period of exploration, Elizabeth Smart was rescued, due to someone recognizing her on a billboard. OTR's executive staff, made the choice to support Missing Children. It is an ideal match, because 1 out of every 6 missing children found is the result of media. OTR offers Rigs for Kids the opportunity to reach greater than 41,000 people each day, via a medium that has a greater than 97% recall rate. Mobile billboards are invaluable search tools.

    SignIndustry.com:
    Statistics show that missing children are found most often because of the media. How does this project exemplify this?

    SM:
    Specifically, statistics show that many missing children are found due to someone recognizing them via media, which may include posters, flyers, television and billboards. The Rigs for Kids Project takes images of missing children and makes them MASSIVE and almost unforgettable. Rigs for Kids Billboards are full-color 9x20 foot moving objects that are impossible to miss due to scale.

    In addition, the project doesn't simply stop with mobile billboards. We have reached out to corporate sponsors to further increase public awareness of missing children. For example, Rigs for Kids Billboards were running in Times Square courtesy of Panasonic on Astrovision. And, we take every opportunity to spotlight missing children during interviews and press placements.

    For example, our community events have been spotlighted on several television shows and news reports. A big rig with a Rig for Kids Banner is always present in the background. Literally, millions of people have been able to see the images of missing children via television and print. We use every opportunity to place the images and increase public awareness.

    SignIndustry.com:
    How are the rigging companies approached for this project? Do they travel specifically where the child is missing or throughout the country on their scheduled driving routes?

    SM:
    OTR Media has fleet partners that work closely with the Rigs for Kids Project. During the initial launch phase of Rigs for Kids, trucking companies have donated the sides of their trucks to the project. In addition, we are always looking for new fleet partners. Julie Snippes, our leasing representative, makes contact with trucking companies to involve them in the project. Trucking companies that wish to support the project can also learn more on our website, www.rigsforkids.org.

    Rigs for Kids Billboards are national and travel throughout the US. However, when we know that a child is within a specific geographical area we are able to place billboards with fleet partners that travel in a more narrow search area.

    SignIndustry.com:
    Will you add more to your 100 moving billboards? Is this an ongoing project or is there a completion date?

    SM:
    OTR supported the first 100 billboards, and has made available 3,000 national mobile billboards at cost. Of course, no single company can support a project of this scale alone. As a result, the project is doing outreach to invest the support of other corporations that will make it possible for us to continue to increase public awareness of missing children and bring them home.

    A valuable feature of the project is the opportunity for corporate supporters to be recognized for their responsible corporate citizenship and support of missing children. Corporations that support this nonprofit project receive recognition for their support at a level that is rare. Greater than 41,000 people see the Rigs for Kids Billboards each day. In addition, the news media coverage offered to corporations for being involved is priceless.

    We are enthusiastic about corporate America getting behind the wheel on this project. The costs associated with being involved in the project, due to the in-kind media support offered by OTR Media, is minimal. And, the value-added benefits to corporate supporters are almost as massive as the billboards themselves.

    SignIndustry.com:
    What has been the response from the public and the missing children's families to Rigs for Kids?

    SM:
    The response from the public has been overwhelming. People are sincerely interested in the project and supporting missing children. Recently, the Project held a community event in New York City and thousands of people learned about the Project and showed their support. CBS 2 New York offered live remote and 100 different corporate representatives attended a luncheon to learn more about Rigs for Kids.

    The family members of missing children have reached out to this Project and offered their support. Of course, we accept no financial support from family members. However, Keith Knox, the father of Kaylee Knox, a featured missing child, attended the New York event and helped share child safety information with community members. He rolled up his sleeves and volunteered his time and spoke with potential corporate supports.

    Just a few days ago, Kaylee was found and returned to her Dad. We were so touched by his story and dedication. As you can imagine, we are thrilled that Kaylee has been found and returned to her Dad.

    SignIndustry.com:
    What is the greatest accomplishment so far in this project? The greatest challenge?

    SM:
    Our greatest accomplishment has been that Rigs for Kids was affiliated with the search processes related to three different children that have been rescued and returned home. The images of missing children become very real when you meet their family members and hear their stories firsthand. Knowing that this Project has played a role in offering family members miles of hope during the most challenging time of their lives is… amazing.

    Our greatest challenge is that Rigs for Kids is a nonprofit project and must receive ongoing corporate support in order to be effective. Reaching decision makers within corporations and being afforded the time to tell the Rigs for Kids story is never an easy task. But, we believe that with supporters like OTR Media, Panasonic, CBS 2 New York, and Shell Oil Products US, we will be successful.

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