Many laughs, tears and memories were shared in a small room in the Valencia Hyatt on Sunday as Safe Rides alumni from across the organization’s 32 year history gathered to honor and say goodbye to the program.
Memorabilia, scrapbooks and photos were proudly displayed on tables as founder Penny Upton stood in front of people she has known for decades, tearing up as she recounted stories of the hours she spent with them.
Originally founded by Upton and Betty Oldfield in 1986 after a particularly deadly year of teen fatalities related to drinking and driving, the Safe Rides program provided a free, confidential ride service from teenage drivers to their peers who were either too intoxicated to drive home or did not otherwise have safe access to a ride home on Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The program officially ended its service on Dec. 15 due to many factors including fundraising difficulties, insurance policy changes regarding teen drivers and competition from ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.
“It feels surreal and I still find myself looking at the clock on a Friday night thinking that I have to go work for Safe RIdes, and I loved the work but it was time,” Upton said. “When we started we were a much smaller town and we had six kids die within a short time span and you were afraid to pick up the paper. Within the first seven or eight years, we did the math and deaths were down 95 percent. I’m still surprised to find out how affected some of the kids were by the program and leaning that many of them continued to work in nonprofits.”
Oldfield added that she felt it was very brave of Upton to decide to close the program, but that in the face of all the other factors it was the right decision. She said that she is very proud of the work that the organization has done and seeing how hard everyone has worked over the past three decades has given her a tremendous respect for teenagers.
Tom Iland worked for Safe Rides since 2002 as both a teen dispatcher and driver and as an adult supervisor. He said that the end of the program was bittersweet for him because he was sad to see it go but was comforted by the fact that the program brought awareness to the drunk driving problem and is not as necessary as it once was.
“Safe Rides was my first journey into the volunteer service community and even though Safe Rides won’t exist anymore, it’s great to see the volunteers from the past 32 years do great things in the community while also helping out other great service organizations,” Iland said.
Mayor Marsha McLean was present to help honor the Safe Rides legacy and helped present awards to the final class of volunteers.
“Safe Rides was one of those organizations that was so unselfish and put together to help our young people stay safe, so Safe Rides has been one of my favorite organizations and the City cannot express its gratitude enough,” McLean said. “Over the years, we don’t know how many lives have been saved, but there have been lives saved by Safe Rides. Our children are our most precious things and Betty and Penny have helped to make sure we don’t lose them to drunk driving.”