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Teens help teens with Safe Rides for 30 years

Safe Rides volunteers smile at the 2017 awards dinner. Courtesy of Brooke Ritter Photography.

For as long as Santa Clarita has existed, there have been teenagers who have needed help and teenagers willing to help.

Celebrating their 30th year of operation, Santa Clarita Valley’s teen ride share program Safe Rides still holds true to their value of helping keep local teens safe by offering free, confidential rides home on Friday and Saturday nights.

Penny Upton co-founded the program in the valley in the late 1980s after six local teens died from drinking and driving. A mom herself, Upton said she could not ignore the problem and had to do something to prevent this from happening again.

“It just struck home,” Upton said. “I couldn’t walk away.”

Since then, the valley has grown from three to six high schools and there are now over 22,000 students enrolled in the Hart High School District. This growth has maintained Safe Rides’ need in the community and provides plenty of students willing to help, Upton said.

“Teenagers make the same mistakes and teenagers with good hearts keep volunteering, and that’s how we keep the program going,” she said.

In fact, Safe Rides serves about 1,000 teens a year and has over 100 volunteers on average.

Upton recalled a time she was buying supplies for the program at a store using a Safe Rides check when the cashier commented on the service and said her sister would have been dead if it weren’t for Safe Rides.

“She knew she was alive today because she was smart enough to dial that phone number,” Upton said. “There are so many things that go wrong when teenagers drink, but if we can just take care of this one little part for as many kids a we can, it works.”

In her 30 years with the program, Upton said she has seen a change in perspective from the teens in the community. Before, drinking and driving used to be something many teens bragged about, but now it’s not seen as funny, according to Upton.

The number of teens in the Santa Clarita Valley who die from drinking and driving has decreased 90 percent since Safe Rides started, she said.

“It’s just not cool to drink and drive anymore,” Upton said. “It’s actually really inspiring.”

While there are certainly still teens who drink and drive who use the service, Upton said over 50 percent of callers have not been drinking and just need a ride home because they don’t feel comfortable getting in a car with someone after a party.

Safe Rides has been propelled forward by an outpouring of community support, especially from the high schools, city council and the sheriff’s department, Upton said.

“We’re just so well accepted in the community and that really makes me feel good for the kids who volunteer,” she said. “When they go home at night, they know they really made a difference to somebody just helping them get home safe.”

Many students who volunteer get National Honors Society or college credit for their volunteer hours. One student received a $10,000 scholarship because of his work with Safe Rides, Upton said.

Copresident and teen volunteer Britney Pfafman received the Outstanding Members Award for working 148 total hours in 2016, the most of any volunteer last year. She started volunteering last April after hearing about it from her friends and teacher who said it was a fun way to get National Honors Society hours.

“To have the ability to go out and make a difference is so huge,” the Golden Valley High School senior said. “To be a part of that every time you work, I just get so much pride and joy in what I’m doing.”

On average, Pfafman works five to 10 hours a week for Safe Rides. She said the experience has made her more social and organized and strengthened her work ethic.

Working for the program has also maintained her awareness of the consequences of drunk driving, she said.

“Understand that those were your peers and they made a bad decision and now they’re gone,” Pfafman said. “To be able to stop that from happening to people and other people’s friends and family members is really satisfying.”

Safe Rides is currently taking volunteers ages 15 to 18 to drive and answer phones.  The next training is April 15 at the Santa Clarita City Activities Center at 20880 Center Pointe Parkway and there is a $30 training fee.

For more information, call 259-6330, visit or email [email protected].

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On Twitter as @ginaender

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