SafeRides earns good marks during its first semester
It doesn’t take more than a minute of speaking with Mike Safko to understand that the Wilton SafeRides program has been worth its weight in gold.
“It’s absolutely been a success,” he said by phone Friday morning. “As soon as we started off, we had some customers every night. Now, as the weeks have progressed, the popularity of the program has really increased.”
Mr. Safko, his daughter Lauren, and Lisa Schneider, also of Wilton, led the charge in founding the program, which is similar to those started in Ridgefield, Westport and Darien more than 30 years ago.
The night of Saturday, Nov. 16, Mr. Safko said, was a “record” night for the SafeRides program, when it dispatched 15 rides and helped “over 30” high school students get home.
“Here’s what happens,” Mr. Safko said. “There’s a party, somebody calls 203-834-CARE (2273), we send out a car, and usually two or sometimes three passengers get in the car and are driven home.”
“SafeRides is a completely anonymous, no questions asked, nonjudgmental service. There are no repercussions,” he added. “Our primary objective is to get a passenger to their home safely.”
Compared to other area programs, Mr. Safko said, he and his partners are happy to watch the program succeed.
“By and large, we are very pleased with how it has turned out. Ridgefield has sometimes shut their program down early due to it being a slow night. While we’re in our early stages, we have no plans at all to close early.”
Wilton SafeRides offers anonymous rides home to any high school student from Wilton on Friday and Saturday nights during the school year from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. The program will not be open Thanksgiving weekend, Mr. Safko said, following a tradition set by the Ridgefield and Westport programs.
Lt. Don Wakeman, of the Wilton police, said on Monday it’s never good to have anyone — of any age — driving while intoxicated. For that reason, he believes the SafeRides program is a benefit to the town.
“I don’t want to condone underage drinking,” he said, “but obviously, underage drinking does exist. We would prefer not to see anyone intoxicated getting into a car and driving their friends home.”
As of now, the service has about 70 youth volunteers, but it is about to launch an initiative to recruit more volunteers from the Class of 2015, Mr. Safko said.
“We’re going to launch an effort this year to recruit some juniors,” he said. “It’s great to have the program in place now, but it’s all about continuity — especially when the seniors start checking out next spring.”
Junior volunteers, he said, will be able to fill the void left by seniors in the spring, and will be groomed to volunteer next year.
So far, he said, volunteers have been excited to participate in the program. They get to socialize with friends and help a good cause.
“Our volunteers are very excited about hanging out at Trackside. They play Ping-Pong, pool, and watch TV,” he said. “In fact there have been some students who want to come over just to hang out. We’re not encouraging that, because you want to make sure everybody stays on task and everyone is focused on providing a service to those who need the rides.”
In addition, Mr. Safko said, the experience is a great addition to any student’s résumé.
“It’s a great piece of community service,” Mr. Safko said. “There are going to be a couple of people who are going to be critical of SafeRides, but 95% of people are going to say, ‘You know what, I know they’re going to drink and they’re going to be out and about in a rural town in Wilton.’ It’s the perfect program for users and for volunteers.”
Plus, Mr. Safko said, “we’re going to start serving pizza for volunteers.”
How many high school juniors can say no to free pizza?