Safe Rides kicks off second year with bigger batch of volunteers

After a successful introduction into the district last year, Wilton’s student-run Safe Rides program will provide Wilton teens with a free, safe means of transportation for a second year.

On Sunday, Sept. 7, Wilton teens packed The Barn room at Trackside Teen Center for an orientation meeting for this year’s Safe Rides program.

Among the attendees were Wilton High School seniors Maddie Gillespie and Cecilia Babchak, who are this year’s Wilton Safe Rides presidents.

“I decided to get involved last year, as a junior, because I thought it was a really great program and I know that when someone’s not in the right state of mind or under the influence, it’s really not cool to go out and drive,” said Maddie.

“Safe Rides really demotes drinking and driving and it really helps students who don’t have a ride. It gives them an opportunity to get home safely and I think it’s a really great thing to have in our town.”

Safe Rides in other Fairfield County towns were the inspiration for Wilton’s own student-run Safe Rides program, said Maddie and Cecilia.

“The founders of Wilton Safe Rides, Lauren Safko and Abby Schneider — they were seniors last year — they saw all these towns having it and thought it would be a great program for Wilton,” said Cecilia.

“They had to contact the Wilton Police Department, the EMS, town hall, Trackside — a lot of work was put into getting the program,” said Maddie.

“We had about 75 people involved in the program last year. This year, we actually have a lot more people involved,” said Cecilia.

“Last year, we had eight teams of eight people, but this year it’s more like teams of 10 or more people.”

Maddie said one reason for the increase in volunteers this year is due to the program’s success last year.

“People saw how it worked and that it’s cool and not something weird to use. Kids want to use it,” she said.

Cecilia and Maddie said this year’s Wilton Safe Rides program has a diverse group of volunteers.

“We have a lot of guys, a lot of girls, mostly seniors, but we definitely have a good group of juniors involved too,” said Cecilia.

“We try to get volunteers from all kinds of social groups, and both genders are involved, so I think that really helps it run successfully.”

How it works

Wilton Safe Rides runs on Friday and Saturday nights, during the school year.

On Safe Rides service nights, one of the student teams will gather at Trackside, which is used as the Safe Rides headquarters.

“We have a land-line at Trackside, so people call the land-line and we always have a team member staying there, getting the calls, writing down the pickup address, the caller’s phone number, where they’re going and where they’re coming from,” explained Cecilia.

“Then we call the Safe Rides drivers and let them know where they have to pick up the caller from.”

Wilton Safe Rides teams take turns providing rides to Wilton teens, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., once a month.

To be a Safe Rides driver, a volunteer needs to have had his or her license for at least six months, said Cecilia and Maddie.

“The way it works is there’s a driver and there’s a passenger in case anything happens — that way there’s always someone there,” explained Cecilia.

“It’s always a boy and girl that do the pickups, and the passenger doesn’t have to have their license.”

In addition to providing a safe means of transportation, comfort and confidentiality are also crucial components of the Wilton Safe Rides program.

“It’s run by the students, so it’s not like random people picking you up. It could be your friends, your classmates or people in the grade above you,” said Maddie.

“It’s anonymous and confidentiality is very serious. We do not approve of anyone giving out anyone’s information because that’s not cool to do.”

In the beginning of the school year, Maddie said, calls for pickups are scarce.

“We don’t get many calls at first. We get like maybe four maximum a night,” she said.

“But later on in the year, we’ll have nights when we’ll all go out — except one person manning the phone — and won’t come back to Trackside the whole night because we’ll just be out picking up people, driving them places and then picking up more people at other places.”

Cecilia said junior and senior proms were two very busy weekends for Safe Rides last year.

“We don’t run on long, extended holiday weekends like Labor Day, Memorial Day, Columbus Day, but we do on other holidays,” said Cecilia.

“St. Patrick’s Day was also really popular last year, and around the holidays like the month of December when there are holiday parties — we were busy then too.”

Who can get a ride?

Maddie and Cecilia pointed out that Wilton’s Safe Rides service is not exclusive to those who are too impaired to drive.

“Safe Rides is not just for someone who’s not able to drive because of the state they’re in. It also includes people who don’t have their license, like ninth and 10th graders,” said Maddie.

“Maybe they’re baby-sitting and they can’t get someone to pick them up and they feel uncomfortable asking the person they’re baby-sitting for, or maybe they’re stuck in town and feel uncomfortable — they can just call Safe Rides,” said Cecilia.

“It’s really open to anyone. It’s not just strictly those who are intoxicated.”

More information on the Wilton Safe Rides program: wiltonsaferides.webs.com.