Greenwich teens look to save Safe Rides program

Prom season is almost upon Greenwich, and after that a summer full of parties for Greenwich teens. While that can be fun, it also means the dangers of underage drinking and the risks of drunk driving are elevated.

To help lessen those risks, the Safe Rides program had been offered by the Greenwich chapter of the American Red Cross. Under the program, rides were provided to teens in need if they had been drinking and couldn’t drive or those who felt stranded at a party and needed to go home. All you had to do was call and the ride would come for you, courtesy of the Red Cross, with the hope that this would help teens learn a lesson without putting themselves or others at risk.

However, the Red Cross has shifted its mission on a national level more toward emergency response, and that has meant the end of programs like this.

Yet the youths of Greenwich are not prepared to see Safe Rides go away, and they are working with the town to bring it back. This effort originated with the First Selectman’s Youth Commission, a group founded by First Selectman Peter Tesei to give town youth more access to government and to try to inspire community and government service. The group includes teens from Greenwich High School and the town’s private schools, and they’re running with the idea to try to bring the program back.

The idea is to try a new version of the program on April 26, when the GHS junior prom will be held. Unmarked police cars would be used to provide the rides, and police officers would do the driving with teenage volunteers coming along. This is a one-night trial for the idea and there’s no funding to push it beyond that, but the commission members say they’re hopeful this trial would allow the program to become established and be transitioned away from the Red Cross and on its own while also providing safe rides home for kids in need.

One of the students behind this effort is Alexander Buffone, who said in an email to the Post, “The Safe Rides program has been an extremely important tool in lowering teen motor vehicle deaths due to drugs and alcohol. I think that it is crucial that we reinstate the program and this trial run will prove that Safe Rises is worth saving.”

Commission member Peter Negrea added that this was the chance to “do something real” for the community.

“This program could potentially save lives on prom night” Peter said.

Jenny Byxbee, the town’s youth services coordinator, and a big supporter of the Safe Rides program, told the Post this week that she was happy to see the teens take this initiative because of what an important service the program provides.

“I want to see this be successful because they feel it’s important,” Ms. Byxbee said about partnering with the local teenagers. “The students who aren’t going to prom that night have all volunteered to man the phones. You’d think there wouldn’t be many teenagers willing to give up a Saturday night to do this from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., but we had a really good response. Almost all of them who aren’t going to prom said they’d do it.”

The plan also has the endorsement of Chief of Police James Heavey. According to Ms. Byxbee, he said he would use some police overtime to provide off-duty officers to do the driving. The Red Cross is helping keep the program alive, too, providing its hotline and the ability to transfer any calls for Safe Rides, at 203-869-8445, over to a non-emergency line at the Greenwich Police Department where they can be answered and responded to by the student volunteers, whom Ms. Byxbee will be supervising.

“Some students have concerns, which I think are valid, about what will happen if they call this number,” Ms. Byxbee said. “Will the police be ratting out the party? But I think, as always, the goal of the police department is to make sure the kids get home safely.”

The Red Cross said it was pleased to see efforts being made to allow the program to continue even as its official involvement ends.

“The Red Cross is excited to be working with the Greenwich First Selectman’s Youth Commission, the Greenwich youth services coordinator and the Greenwich Police Department to help determine the needs of the Greenwich community,” said Mary Young, chairman of the Metro New York North Red Cross chapter, which includes Greenwich. “Red Cross clubs from Brunswick and GHS will assist in announcing and supporting a Safe Rides evening on Saturday, April 26, the evening of the junior prom.”

This was to be discussed further at a meeting this week, after the deadline for this week’s edition of the Post. So while the specifics have yet to be ironed out, the general idea is meeting with a lot of initial acceptance, including from Mr. Tesei, who told the Post he was glad the members of the youth council had come up with the initiative.

“I’m very pleased that they’re putting their energies behind this,” Mr. Tesei said. “It’s a vital program and has been a valuable resource in town for our youth for decades. It saves lives.”


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