SafeRides Saves Lives

For years, the Westport Youth Commission tried to develop a Safe Rides program. Members knew it’s a very effective way to keep teenagers out of cars after they — or their friends — have been drinking. But organizers could never overcome thorny insurance questions.

In 2009 Alex Dulin solved the problem. The Staples junior had just moved from Mercer Island, Washington, where she was deeply involved in a SafeRides program. They ran it through Boy Scouts. Voilà!

Julie Mombello

Julie Mombello

Julie Mombello — head of volunteers for the Staples PTA — was inspired by Alex’s passion. Julie, Alex and a host of others became driving forces (ho ho) behind Westport’s SafeRides program.

Five years later, it’s thriving. Every Saturday night at 9:30, a team of student dispatchers (and 1 adult volunteer) gathers at Christ & Holy Trinity Church. They eat food donated by Westport Pizzeria.

And every Saturday — until 1:30 a.m. — 4 cars are constantly on the go. Each has a backpack with a first aid kit, rubber gloves and water.

There’s also a bucket. Westport Wash & Wax has offered to split the cost of an interior wash and detail, if someone gets sick and misses the bucket. That’s happened once in 5 years.

Giving up a Saturday night is a huge commitment. But this year 46 seniors, 59 juniors, 28 sophomores, 11 freshmen — and 28 adults — did it at least once.

Every volunteer must pay to work with SafeRides. Additional funds come from the Staples and middle school PTAs, and some elementary schools’, and the PAL.

SafeRides volunteers, before the calls come in.

SafeRides volunteers, before the calls come in.

The calls offer a (confidential) window into Westport life. Some come from teenagers who know they have drunk too much, and should not drive home. Some come from their friends.

Some come from babysitters, who do not want to get in a car with a father (or mother) who has been drinking.

SafeRides tries not to be a taxi service. Sometimes, though, it is.

“We brainstorm all the time how to avoid it,” Mombello says. “We can’t come up with a way. But we can’t limit the people who use SafeRides. It’s okay to be a taxi service once in a while, so long as we’re saving lives.”

SafeRides logo

A criticism of SafeRides — before it began, and now — is that it promotes teenage drinking.

“I can’t believe someone drinks because of SafeRides,” Mombello counters. “What SafeRides does is keep someone who has been drinking from getting behind the wheel — and it keeps their friends out of the car too. If we save one life, it’s worth it.”

SafeRides drivers and navigators will not leave until they’ve seen their rider get safely inside the home. A few times, Mombello says, drivers have rung the bell, to make sure their rider was met by an adult.

Occasionally calls are made to parents, to say their child is being delivered home by SafeRides. Drivers have waited in the driveway until the adults arrived.

“Parents have been incredibly appreciative of that,” Mombello says.

SafeRides 1No one has ever had to call 911. But every member trains for that eventuality.

“SafeRides has really established itself,” says Mombello. “Our feet are firmly on the ground.”

After 4 years as director, she’s stepping down. Mark Dulsky — a longtime volunteer with Service League of Boys (SLOBs) and baseball — takes over.

Tomorrow is the final night of the school year for SafeRides. In September — when school begins — they’ll start again.

And they’ll continue saving lives, even if no one ever knows whose.

10 responses to “SafeRides Saves Lives

  1. Holly Wheeler

    Thanks Alex and Julie. The lives you save = everyone on
    the road. Not just the drunk driver.

  2. Thank you Julie for all of your time and dedication! My three boys have all worked with Safe Rides and it’s a great program. Mark…thank you for taking the wheel!

  3. Ilene Mirkine

    Thank you Alex and Julie, and thank you Mark as well. Safe Rides had been a welcome addition to Westport, and everyone who hears about it wants to start it in their community as well! (and for not just kids, but for adults as well…)
    Both of our sons participated, and I think that the learning has transitioned with them into their college years and beyond. Bravo!

  4. It is very gratifying to see the development of the Safe Rides program .
    Back in 1982 Claire Gold, Sue Baron, Jill Fink and myself, among others
    developed a Safe Rides program with the same intent and caring for
    The kids. It lasted for about 2 or 3 years but didn’t maintain it’s initial
    enthusiasm and was disbanded. There is a real need for this service
    And I look forward to,it’s continued success.

  5. My daughter Rebecca ’89 worked many a weekend night at the “original” Safe Rides. The dispatch office always had a parent volunteer in case of emergency. I was one of them.
    I was glad to hear when it was reinstituted. But disappointed when it was presented as a new service. The students worked hard to try and keep it going. Give them credit for a good idea over 25 years ago

  6. Great job Julie! We will miss you. You leave Saferides in capable hands. Am proud to be a member of Saferides and spend an occasional Saturday night, with some of the best & brightest kids in Westport. We are so luck in so many ways.

  7. We are so very lucky to have this program!!!!! Thank you for saving lives!!

  8. Carolyn Cohen

    It’s great that all of the hard work by the Safe Rides team is being highlighted. Thank you all for your dedication behind the scenes!

  9. Stephen Rubin

    Such A great group of dedicated and hardworking people. Thanks to Julie… I am sure that all of us at Westport PAL are very proud of your accomplishments. THANK YOU

  10. Many thanks and congratulations to Julie and the many others who have been involved in Safe Rides- this is a real service to the Westport community in so many ways.