A few minutes after the first bell yesterday morning at the regional high school, seniors Kurstin Meehan and Elise Chapdelaine stepped into a four-sided piece of cardboard painted to look like a car and went racing down the halls.
They hit the brakes and turned left at Dan Sharkovitz's homeroom, a classroom of 10th graders who looked as if they could use a jolt of silliness at 7:40 a.m. But the message was serious.
What do you do if you need a ride home, you're drunk and your friends are high?
"You call a number and you get a ride home," Miss Chapdelaine told her younger schoolmates. "Anytime between 10 and 2 on Friday and Saturday nights, we'll come and get you. It's totally confidential. No one will know about it. SafeRides is for your protection."
Run by students and sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, SafeRides is now in its fourth year on the Vineyard and remains the only chapter in the state.
This week, members got word that their chapter won a $35,000 grant from the Massachusetts Service Alliance, a nonprofit agency based in Boston that oversees community service projects for the state. And if the state budget allows it, they are promised the same funding for a second year.
SafeRides has also been invited to a national youth conference in Seattle to share their work and teach others how to set up a SafeRides chapter. Ten students will make the trip in March.
The grant money can't be used to pay for the Seattle trip, because it was not part of the original grant application and budget. In fact, SafeRides needs to raise about $8,000 in matching funds in order to receive the full $35,000, and it will have to come up with another $10,000 to pay for the trip.
But besides money, SafeRides is facing bigger challenges. One is raising awareness of the service, especially with freshmen and sophomores who may not know what SafeRides is.
That's why Miss Meehan and some others got to work building a cardboard car. A subcompact with room for two teens, it's painted blue with yellow headlights and a vanity license plate - the telephone number for SafeRides, 939-9100.
For the past few weeks of school, this little car has been making the rounds of homerooms with members pitching the benefits to rooms full of skeptical teenagers.
"It seems like in the beginning they hear about it, and it sounds silly and stupid and uncool," said Lauren Carelli, co-president of the chapter. "By the time you go through the high school, you realize it's a good organization and you end up calling it a few times. Your friends use it, and it grows on you."
Miss Meehan and Miss Chapdelaine wrapped up their pitch by offering a 10th grader a "safe ride" to the first class of the day. Not surprisingly, it was a boy who raised his hand, and off they went into the crowded hallway, Miss Meehan beeping and giggling a little along the way.
The truth is, despite the grave underpinnings of SafeRides, the kids who volunteer to join the project have a lot of fun, especially when it comes to manning the weekend base station at Columbia TV in the Edgartown Triangle. Waiting for the phone to ring, the drivers and dispatchers play Twister, watch movies and consume their share of chips and soda.
"So many kids want to do this, they just show up at the base station and say, ‘Can I stay here?' " said Pam Carelli, Lauren's mother and the founder of the chapter. They have had to turn kids away.
But in contrast to the enthusiasm of teenagers, Mrs. Carelli said, adult volunteers needed to chaperone the base station are in short supply. Her frustration is obvious. "I can't believe how nonchalant and blasé people are," she said.
The job requires two hours of training and the ability to stay awake past 2 a.m. in a room full of nine or 10 teenagers. Mrs. Carelli has already logged three nights since SafeRides got rolling last month. She needs help.
The other task in front of SafeRides is continuing to apply pressure on the state legislature, where a bill filed last year could allow SafeRides to get started much earlier in the school year. The bill would create an exemption to the nighttime curfew that keeps drivers under the age of 18 off the roads between midnight and 5 a.m.
The waiver would apply to SafeRides drivers, allowing the group to recruit drivers who are 17, instead of waiting for the first few months of each school year for enough seniors to turn 18 and volunteer to be the designated drivers. The waiver could also spawn other SafeRides chapters across the state.
Now that state legislators have completed the budget process, Mrs. Carelli said, it's likely they will take up this bill, which has won support from the senator who chairs the joint public safety committee. Mothers Against Drunk Driving has opposed the bill, arguing that the whole concept of teenagers giving free rides to their peers is encouraging underage drinking and drug use.
SafeRides members have already traveled to Boston twice in the last year to testify in front of legislators, and Mrs. Carelli said she is prepared to lobby even more. Mike Wallace, the television journalist and seasonal resident, has even been calling legislators to push for passage of the bill.
On the Island, SafeRides members have joined forces with Martha's Vineyard Community Services to create alternatives to the kind of lifestyle that would lead a teenager to call for a ride.
The plan is to team up with a handful of Island businesses willing to stay open late at night and give teenagers a place to gather. Lyndsay Famariss from Island Counseling met with SafeRides board members last month to rally support for the idea.
"We need to provide an alternative for kids on the weekend," said Ms. Famariss. "They just want a casual place to hang out, play games, drink coffee. And they're really interested in having a place to go where there are also adults, that isn't just set aside for them."
So, while SafeRides members are busy driving their blue car around the high school, raising their profile, they are also committed to creating better things to do on the Vineyard. They even agreed to sell tickets to an all-ages concert Jan. 19 at the Agricultural Hall, headlined by the popular band, Tickets to the Woods (formerly Unbusted), and sponsored by Community Services.
"I really like the community outreach work," said Lauren Carelli. "It goes along with the package deal of what this program is all about."