SafeRides extends hours for prom night
After the last corsage is pinned, and the photographer has packed up to go home, student volunteers from the SafeRides program will gear up for a night of service.
The organization gives Island-wide rides to high school students who are unable to make their way home safely. Stetson Nunes, co-president of the organization, said the program has been successful on past prom nights, and he expects much of the same this year.
SafeRides, a peer-to-peer program run by student and adult volunteers, will operate from 10 pm Saturday to 3 am Sunday, a one-hour extension on its regular weekend hours, following the annual Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) prom at Outerland.
"It's a great program, and people really use it," Marguerite Cogliano, a junior at MVRHS, said. Marguerite has been a volunteer since her freshman year.
Stetson, who works with fellow co-president David Holmberg to "keep the ball rolling and keep the enthusiasm up," said the main hurdle for the program has been finding eligible drivers. He said one driver is lined up for this Saturday night.
In order to be a SafeRides driver, students must be 18 years old with a clean driving record. They have to complete a course on how to deal with individuals who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These restrictions mean that most qualified drivers come from the senior class, which greatly reduces the pool of candidates.
Stetson, a senior at MVRHS, added that often upperclassmen do not want to sacrifice their weekend nights to work for the program, or have other commitments on weekend mornings, or impending curfews.
"For example, Saturday night, we couldn't run because we didn't have a driver. It's hard to get people to sign up week after week."
Marguerite estimated that six drivers have formed the SafeRides pool this season.
Although the program has struggled with available motorists, the spirit of volunteerism has not flagged. Stetson estimated that more 100 students volunteered in the program this year, which runs each Friday and Saturday night from January to May.
Aside from driving, students can take calls at the program's base station in the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center.
Brought to the Island in 1998 by adult adviser Pam Carelli, SafeRides is modeled after similar programs nationwide, and is run under the supervision of the Boy Scouts of America.
According to their web site, the Boy Scouts claim that SafeRides "provides a confidential ride home to any student who is not in a condition to drive. It also provides a ride home to those who wish to avoid being a passenger in such a situation."
Ms. Carelli, in an interview last October, said the program grew out of the death of Ryan Mone in a car crash on New Year's Day 1998, in which alcohol was a factor. Ryan was a senior at MVRHS. She proposed the idea of a student network offering secure rides home, and the community backed her with support.
At the start, Ms. Carelli had to explore issues of insurance, eligible drivers, adult volunteers and gas costs. She said that through the Boy Scouts they were able to purchase insurance for each driver at a reasonable price, and adult volunteers have been plentiful over the years.
Each night, there is an adult volunteer at the base station who supervises but plays no active role. The adult does not ride with the student drivers. Marguerite said the students use their own cars, but SafeRides pays for the gas.
Despite other difficulties, calls and usage of the program appear to be ample.
Marguerite said she is confident that of the roughly 800 students at MVRHS, "every single kid in the high school knows about [SafeRides]."
Business cards, with the SafeRides phone number printed in bold type, are circulated throughout the school each year. The number is also passed by word of mouth, and stored in most cell phones, Stetson said.
Although the program is only open to high school students, Marguerite said they have often received calls from middle school students, demonstrating the range of awareness of the program.
"On one night we could have one call, and the next 30," Marguerite said. "That's how much it varies."
An original concern was that students would be afraid that if they called for a ride, word would get back to parents or school administrators that they had used the service. Marguerite said in her three years of participation, she has never encountered this problem. "Everyone does it, and everyone who uses it is very appreciative," she said.
For its first few years, SafeRides received state funding, but that was cut off. The program is now run completely on donations and the rare fundraiser, Stetson said.
SafeRides has no affiliation with MVRHS, but school officials allow members to distribute flyers in January to advertise and recruit students for the program.
As of last fall, SafeRides had given more than 900 rides to students and driven in excess of 7,000 miles without incident.