Student group wants peers to take a safe ride

By AUBRIE GEORGE | The Moorestown Sun

While the school year is filled with tests, projects and, for some, college preparations — it can also be a lot of fun for students.

Numerous extracurricular, athletic and social events are set up throughout the year, which help students to remain engaged in their community and schools. And while it’s important for students to enjoy their youth, it’s also important for them to remain safe while doing so.

To enhance the notion of safety, two sisters from Moorestown, Kayla and Kandace Schweighofer, set up a service “for teens by teens” during the prom season of 2008 called Moorestown’s Safe Ride.

Since that time, the free program has blossomed from a seasonal program to an all-school-year-long program that provides “no questions asked” rides home to any Moorestown High School or Middle School student who feels their safety has been compromised.

Kandace, a current Moorestown High School senior who co-founded the organization with her older sister Kayla, is the current president of the organization, which operates on Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. from September through graduation weekend.

At any time during those hours, teens can call or text (856) 669–8545 and can receive a confidential, safe ride home from trained MSR volunteers.

Kandace said that in its first full year of operation from September 2008 through June 2009, MSR successfully provided 321 rides allowing 564 students to arrive home safely.

The program continues to operate this year out of the Moorestown Fire Department’s dispatch center on Main Street. During operation, trained student volunteers, ages 14 through 20, and an adult supervisor man the station and wait for calls and texts to provide safe rides.

When a passenger calls or texts, their information is recorded, in case of an emergency, but that information is always kept confidential, group members said.

The Moorestown Police Department is informed of all MSR drivers under a provisional license so that they are permitted to drive after 9 p.m.

The service also does not use marked cars so that the ride is kept completely confidential.

Volunteers receive guidance and training from the Boy Scouts of America in help volunteers makes sure the passengers are always safe, group members said.

The program is also insured by Boy Scouts, according to its Web site.

The service is open to passengers in high school and in middle school from both private and public schools. However, the service can only transport within the confines of Moorestown Township, group members said.

Kandace said the program is designed to help students in all situations where they feel their safety may have been compromised, not just situations in which students have been engaging in underage drinking, which, she said, has been a common misconception.

“Teenagers find themselves and put themselves in a variety of situations that jeopardize their safety,” Kandace said. “MSR was designed to a be friend to call, a way out, a safe ride home, no questions asked,”

Situations where students may need safe ride can include a bad date, a student whose friends, against his or her better judgment, chooses to engage in drugs or alcohol, a student who gets left behind, or a babysitter who is offered a ride home by an adult that is under the influence, Kandace said.

However, MSR does not hide that fact that it will provide rides home to students who may have been drinking.

“Yes, it is true, we do provided rides to kids that have been drinking, but isn’t a safe ride home a better alternative to tragedy?” Kandace said. “Think about it, what about the student that makes the decision to go to the party but then decides otherwise? Getting out of the sticky situation safely gives that student a second chance to make a better decision next time.”

With that said, Kandace said MSR encourages parents to support the program. Parents are also welcome to call the organization themselves with any questions or concerns.

“Even the best and smartest kids make poor decisions sometimes,” Kandace said.

MSR operates through a Teen Board and an Adult Advisory Board. All the operations and program management is handled by the Teen Board with the adults as advisers only, Kandace said.

In addition to the support of the Moorestown Fire Department, MSR also receives support and guidance from local organizations including the Rotary Club of Moorestown as well as from The Boy Scouts of America.

MSR members showed thanks to the fire department in appreciation for use of their facility last week when they presented members with a commemorative plaque on Oct. 20, group members said.

While the organization has grown since it began, Kandace said group members are always looking for more volunteers to help out.

This school year, interested MHS students can be on the look out for MSR’s monthly meetings during 12th period.

“At these meetings students can learn more about the program, register, be trained to be a volunteer, and existing members can schedule themselves for their nights to volunteer at the dispatch center,” Kandace said.

Students in need of a safe ride should program (856) 669–8545 into their phones and use the service on weekends. For more information about the organization, including how local businesses and families can give support, visit the group’s Web site at www.moorestownssaferide.org or e-mail group members at contact@moorestownssaferide.org.