It takes all of us getting involved to keep our kids safe

Jenny-Byxbee-greenwich-voicesOn April 26, I had the pleasure for the very first time to serve as an “adult on premise” for the Safe Rides program, a vital program that helps keep teenagers from making the extremely dangerous decision to drive after drinking.

For those of you not familiar with Safe Rides, it started in 1982 as an American Red Cross Program that offered  free, “no questions asked” ride shome to teenagers who are in at-risk situations. It’s staffed by student volunteers and an adult on premises to respond to calls. According to the American Red Cross-Metro New York North Chapter, Safe Rides, thanks to the help of 130 youth volunteers, provided more than 700 safe and confidential rides home to Greenwich’s young people in 2013.

I have to admit that I wasn’t always on board with this program. In fact, you could call me a downright skeptic of it. I had to wonder if it ended up promoting underage drinking by being available to provide young people a way to get home if they needed it. Was this giving them a free pass for bad behavior?

But then I started to think about what I would want my very own children to do if they were in any situation involving the presence of alcohol or drugs and needed to get home safely. Naturally, I would like to think that they would always call me or my husband first when they need help with anything.

However, that doesn’t always mesh with the reality of being a teenager, and in my work experience I often see children not wanting to let their parents down, and regretfully, their first reaction may not be to call a trusted adult if they need help. I would hate to think of my own children ever putting their lives in danger, and I know I’m not the only one.

In my heart of hearts, I always believe it’s about keeping children healthy and safe, and I personally want to help in any way I can to empower young people to make good choices and be able to rebound from their mistakes.

We are fortunate in Greenwich to have such a wonderful police department that cares very much about our young people. Without them providing us their headquarters as a home base for April 26, which was the night of the junior prom, it would not have been possible to run Safe Rides. Chief of Police Heavey, First Selectman Tesei and Sgt. Thorme, we can’t thank you enough.

What pleased me immensely about that night was the care and commitment of the students who volunteered. The First Selectman’s Youth Commission members rolled up their sleeves and gave up their Saturday night and, in some cases, their very own prom from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. to make sure any young people who needed rides got home safely.

I absolutely love it when young people come together and have fun and create friendships and a camaraderie when helping others. Those are the times when I drop everything I am doing to try to help and support them.

Often it is when young people themselves have an invested interest or intrinsic motivation to do something when magic happens. Not only do those programs, which are youth-led, tend to be tremendously successful but the children often get more out of it than they give.

It’s always compelling when a group of young people care about something passionately and want to be part of the solution. One of my favorite examples of youth rallying around a cause that’s important to them is the establishment of the annual Wiffle ball tournament. These children care about having a Wiffle field and they are doing everything they can to get one (details are coming soon, I promise).

If Greenwich doesn’t care about Greenwich children, who will?

I think we as a community need to work with our young people to identify a viable alternative for continuing the program, not only because our young people care about it but because it can save lives. I’ve seen the good that Safe Rides can do, and if it goes away we might learn in a tragic way how much it was needed.

 

Jenny Byxbee is the Greenwich youth services coordinator. She may be reached at 203-869-2221 or [email protected]

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