Keep SafeRides a driving force for Island teens

By Leanne Reel

Island Forum

Sixteen months have passed since the first group of SafeRides volunteers set up camp at a local church and fielded requests for rides home on prom night of 2004. The program's volunteer roster included 10 high school students and five adult supervisors during that first month. To date, Mercer Island SafeRides youth volunteer roster exceeds 100 high school students, has doubled its numbers in adult participation and has received more than 300 phone calls from Mercer Island teens in need of a ride home.

Safety is a very important concern for teenagers and parents alike. Simply put, the goal of SafeRides was to promote youth safety by offering teens a practical resource -- a free ride home -- no questions asked. The first program of this kind was started in Darien, Conn., in response to community concern regarding the problem of alcohol-related car accidents among teens. Here on Mercer Island, SafeRides, a youth-based, volunteer organization, continues to offer teens an alternative in getting home safely -- without having to explain the circumstances.

Time and commitment are two of the largest challenges facing the success of SafeRides. It takes a crew of five volunteers to be able to offer the program every Saturday night from 9:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. Beginning at 9:30 p.m., four teens (two girls and two boys) and an adult supervisor begin taking telephone calls at a local church. The driver and navigator are dispatched by the two other teens volunteers fielding calls. The adult supervisor is available to offer support, if needed, review rules and responsibilities of the volunteers and provide a safe environment for the crew throughout the evening.

The Island law firm of Lybeck Murphy offered its services free of charge when the program was in its planning stages to help SafeRides clarify liability issues regarding the use of the ``family car'' when used as transportation for the program. Lybeck Murphy continues to play a very import role by offering its professional expertise when needed. Sahara Pizza has been providing pizza for the volunteers working Saturday evenings since prom night 2004. Sahara has donating sixty-six pizzas to date, totaling close to $1,000. And what's an evening without a good video? Longs Pharmacy routinely provides two movies each Saturday for the crew during the evening. Longs' generous donation has saved the SafeRides program nearly $450 in video rental fees over the past 16 months. Talking Rain keeps our volunteers hydrated throughout the night with its donation of bottled water and Albertson's satisfies snack cravings with weekly gift cards. Mercer Island Covenant Church graciously provides space at the church for SafeRides, training sessions and informal meetings when needed, at no charge.

In February, Suzanne Skone, owner of the Mercer Island Auto Spa, turned over her facility to SafeRides volunteers to raise money for the program's ongoing expenses (BSA membership dues, gas money, cell phone costs and miscellaneous office expenditures) as well as raise the community's awareness of the organization. Through the efforts of all the volunteers, SafeRides raised more than $1,400 in three hours, giving the program the means to be self-sustaining for the remainder of this year. In addition to the above mentioned businesses, Mercer Island Youth and Family Services continues to provide their support, as they have from the beginning. MIYFS's support has helped to sustain the spirit of the program's philosophy, in ways that cannot be obtained monetarily.

While SafeRides will not solve the teenage drinking problem on Mercer Island or prevent our youth from encountering risky situations, it provides a visible expression of the community's concern for our youth's safety and welfare. It also creates a climate that encourages Mercer Island teens to make more responsible decisions.

For SafeRides to carry on the commitment of providing safe and confidential transportation for teens in need of a ride home, the community's involvement is imperative. SafeRides is currently looking for more teen and adult volunteers as well as local businesses for their support. To learn more e-mail Leannereel@aol.com.or call 236-7363

The SafeRides hotline number is 979-RIDE.

Leanne Reel is the adult coordinator for the SafeRides program.

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