SafeHalo escort system helps students find buddy to walk home at night
Rutgers students can now avoid the dangers that come with walking home alone with a new escort system called SafeHalo.
SafeHalo, the on-demand buddy system for Rutgers students walking home at night, was launched last Friday, said Daniel Reji, a Rutgers Business School senior and the founder and CEO of the program.
The program is simple: Students text SafeHalo, and two volunteers called “Halos” arrive to escort them home.
All 22 Halos gathered for the launch, and two were fortunate enough to be dispatched on an assignment during the first day, Reji said.
“I've dreamed about that night for a year and a half, and it was, somehow, everything I could have hoped for and more,” he said. “I told the Halos that we don't measure success by how many calls we get but by how many of us were ready to go if any student needed us.”
The idea was born during Reji’s sophomore year when a research paper inspired him to learn more about the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses, he said.
After months of research, he realized that the solution does not revolve around increased campus security, but around trust.
“(Students) don't want to be judged, they don't want to be seen as uncool, they don't want to be vulnerable,” Reji said. “I wanted to create something that gave students a judgment-free way to get a walk home, without anyone ever knowing they needed help.”
Any Rutgers student can sign up for SafeHalo by visiting wearesafehalo.com. Within 24 hours, the student will receive a SafeHalo contact that has information to contact the program in a time of need.
“Text us if you need us, and if you don't, don't worry about it," Reji said. "It's only one contact, as opposed to an app that takes up storage on your phone."
Reji worked with his close friend Ryan Trischetta to bring the idea to life. Trischetta, a graduate of Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, soon became SafeHalo’s co-founder and chief operating officer.
"The most amazing thing right now is seeing an idea come to fruition. Dan took a vision that we created and turned it into something tangible. That's pretty remarkable,” said Trischetta, who now works as a consultant for IBM Global Business Services.
After going through countless iterations for the program, Reji and Trischetta posted about their venture on various Rutgers Facebook pages.
“We got an incredible response, with over 600 likes, comments and shares on our posts,” Reji said.
More than 25 student organizations expressed their support for the program, and more than 70 students applied to be Halos. The Halo selection process included one-on-one interviews and simulated behavioral scenarios to gauge how volunteers would react under pressure.
“The 22 Halos we have for the Fall '16 class are some of the most wonderful people I've ever met at this school,” Reji said.
The Halo application for the Spring 2017 semester will open over winter break.
Reji funded the program out-of-pocket for the pilot semester, but he says funding will come from various revenue streams in the future.
“Our business model will be based around donations, brand merchandise, as well as partnerships with local businesses and restaurants,” Reji said. “We're also looking into potentially working with universities to sponsor SafeHalo as a way to bolster their campus safety programs.”
During the fall semester, SafeHalo will run Friday nights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on College Avenue. Students living on different campuses can have Halos escort them to a bus stop.
Reji hopes to operate SafeHalo on two nights during Spring 2017 and to launch pilot programs at two more universities in the fall. In the long run, the team has ambitious goals.
“In five years, we're striving to be running in 100 universities,” Reji said.
Manya Goldstein is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies and political science. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. She can be found on Twitter @ManyaG18.