SafeRides enters its fifth year 122 volunteers strong as Wilton High School students gathered for a kickoff meeting Sunday, Sept. 10, at Trackside Teen Center. The service, which offers free rides to Wilton teens on Friday and Saturday nights, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., begins this weekend, Sept. 15-16.
Addressing students and some of the parent volunteers were this year’s student co-leaders Johnny Maggio and Eva Greco who reviewed some rules. Volunteers, for example, may not drive a caller’s car home for them, nor may they pick up students from Redding addresses in Georgetown.
“Our biggest nights are proms, homecoming, and the Counties [formal dances],” Johnny told The Bulletin. This year’s volunteer roster is a big jump from the first year when about 75 students participated. He explained there are six teams of high school seniors and two teams of juniors. Each team has 12 to 16 members.
With Trackside as their headquarters, each team takes a night from 10 to 2 with one or two parent volunteers. When a call comes in to the teen center landline, a team of a boy and a girl respond to calls within Wilton. They will only take the caller home and then they report back to Trackside.
“Some nights we only get five calls,” Johnny said, “but a busy night is 15 or more calls.”
While the service may be used by a teen who is impaired, it is also used by students too young to drive who just need a ride home from a friend’s house or babysitting job. That’s how Katie Reid used the service and now she is a volunteer.
“I used it a lot freshman year,” she said. “Uber didn’t exist and this way I didn’t have to wake my parents up to come get me.”
Elizabeth Costello, a Wilton High School senior, was a volunteer last year and this year formed her own team.
“It’s a great organization for the town,” she said. “I know a lot of people doing it.”
At their meeting, students heard words of support and encouragement from Sgt. David Hartman of the Wilton Police Department and John Myers, secretary of the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
“We appreciate the work you’ve all signed up to do because it does make a difference,” Hartman told the students. “Having you all volunteer your time to come out and make sure people get home safely is very important.”
A 1994 graduate of Wilton High School, Hartman recounted how the SafeRides program that existed here in the 80s had ended by the time he was a freshman.
“That was a shame because you know what, I saw a lot of people get hurt and injured, even in high school. Had we had a program like this I think it would have helped a lot of people,” he said.
“We’re there for you and we’re out to help you,” he said of the police department. “If you have a problem I don’t want you to hesitate to call us. … We’re not there to get anybody in trouble, we’re here to help.”
Speaking along a similar line, Myers said, “You’re on the front lines. When you pick up somebody you want to make sure they don’t just need a ride home. They might need help.”
Both men spoke on the dangers of alcohol poisoning which results from binge drinking. Myers also spoke about opioids, which he said “is a problem here in Wilton.”
“When someone is pale, cyanotic with pinpoint pupils, they’ve got a bigger problem than being drunk, so you want to call 911 for sure.”
Laurie Maggio, Johnny’s mother, explained the role of parent volunteers to The Bulletin.
“We are here to support our kids,” she said. “We want to be sure our children’s work is running smoothly. Sometimes it’s a judgment call” and parents are a source of advice.
The program will run through mid-June, but does not operate on major holiday weekends such as Memorial Day, or when weather causes dangerous driving conditions.