Rhody Rides program drives students safely
Jhodi Redlich, 401-874-4500
KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 4, 2006 -- According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 39 percent of the nation’s driving fatalities in 2004 were alcohol related. In the face of such sobering statistics, one group of University of Rhode Island students is working to ensure the safety of other students by offering them free and non-judgmental rides home from Narragansett area clubs and restaurants.
“Rhody Rides is a very exciting example of how much students can accomplish with vision, commitment, and hard work,” said Fran Cohen, assistant vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students. “I am very proud of the Rhody Rides members who choose to serve their community in this way.”
The program is the brainchild of URI senior Judy Duhamel who in the spring of 2004 attended a student leadership conference at Texas A&M University where a similar effort was already in place. “It was an example of students taking care of each other,” said the Westerly native. “I thought that it would be perfect to do here.”
After almost two years of planning, a 12-week pilot trial of the program ran through this semester. There were 85 student volunteers who gave more than 300 rides since February. These volunteers were trained in defensive driving, alcohol awareness, and first aid.
Student volunteers staff the operation on Friday and Saturday nights from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m. Students who are concerned about driving themselves or riding in a car with another driver who may have been drinking, can simply call Safe Ride at 874-SAFE. Dispatchers will then send a driver and accompanying volunteer to drive them home. Enterprise Car Rental leased vans to the organization every weekend. Recently, they have also started visiting bars on popular nights to hand out key chains with the Rhody Rides phone number printed on it.
“The students who we drive home are so appreciative for the service,” said URI senior and Rhody Rides volunteer Jennifer Kelly. The Cornwall, N.Y., resident has volunteered three nights this semester. “ Even if I help one person each weekend from either not driving drunk or getting into a car with someone who drank then it’s worth it,” she said.
The organization is hoping to branch out, but is looking for additional funding through donations and corporate sponsorships. Common Ground, URI’s federally funded alcohol education initiative, has also provided some support for the group. Additional planned fundraising activities include a softball tournament and gala this fall. The group also recently partnered with the Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill in Wakefield for a fundraiser. The restaurant donated a percentage of each bill on certain dates to Rhody Rides. Casey’s Grill and Bar in Wakefield honored the students with a free luncheon in honor of their commitment to the community.
Students helping students: Rhody Rides volunteers are ready to drive their peers home safely. From left to right: Judy Duhamel, of Westerly, Ryan Battis, of Princeton, N.J., Phil Kaiser, of Manalapan, N.J., Neil Leston, of Middletown, N.J., Momodou Jobe of Providence, and Jon Sorrentino, of Middletown, N.J. URI News Bureau Photo by Michael Salerno Photography.