In just 5 months of operation, SafeRides has become a routine part of Westport weekend life — respected and used by teenagers, admired (for the most part) by adults.
Staples senior Alex Dulin — a 1-girl tornado who created the organization soon after moving here from suburban Seattle — made such an impact that this month she received the 2009 Youth Leadership Award from the Connecticut Youth Services Association.
A few days later — in the aftermath of Staples’ Homecoming that laid bare the extent of underage drinking — Alex reflected on alcohol, SafeRides, and teen life in Westport.
“There are many more volunteers here than in the program in Washington,” Alex said. “It was a little more difficult finding drivers here with all the driving restrictions. But since July, when SafeRides was exempt from the teen driving rules, it has been smooth sailing.”
Alex was surprised by how well the community responded to the idea. Knowing the controversy it could cause — the big rap on programs like this is that they encourage teen drinking — Alex was prepared to “battle.”
She didn’t have to. “Most Westporters received it with open arms,” she said.
In fact, the only issue is a few callers each Saturday night who want to test SafeRides, or avoid paying for a taxi.
Overall, Alex said, “students have reacted extremely well to SafeRides. We’re busy on Saturday nights, but the amount of volunteers each week is phenomenal.” Over 100 Staples students signed up during Club Rush.
Adults have also taken to the program. “Most are not naive,” Alex said. “They recognize that drinking is part of the teen culture — in Westport and the nation — and rather than teach abstinence, we may as well prevent a tragedy.”
Alex has received a few angry letters and emails from “concerned community members” who call the program a negative influence. But, she said, “all the positive feedback every week drowns out those remarks.”
Besides safety, Alex calls SafeRides “an opportunity. It gives students and adults the chance to give back to our town, and become part of the community.” It’s also “a chance for all of us to learn just how prevalent alcohol and drug issues in Westport are.”
As for Homecoming, Alex called it “quite an event. Was it upsetting? Yes. Was it surprising? No.
“I received a couple of emails after Homecoming from adults, some stating that they were happy the program was up and running since it was obvious just how many kids were drinking, and others who put the blame on the program.”
Alex believes strongly that “there is no way underage drinking can be blamed on SafeRides. It is a reaction-based program, and in no way teaches students to drink. Teens will drink no matter what. Adults can tell us the negative side effects, we can get suspended from school, and our parents can ground us for a month — but it won’t deter the drinking social scene. It’s just too prevalent. We may as well do what we can to prevent any accidents, which would just destroy our town.”(Students and adults interested in getting involved in SafeRides should contact firstname.lastname@example.org)