Ridgefield Girl Scout launches safety initiative in town

From left, Ridgefield High School senior Briony Sekelsky and Jeff Goncalves, the senior program director and keystone advisor forBoys & Girls Club of Ridgefield, celebrated the successful launch of Sekelsky's new initiative Safe Spaces. The Boys & Girls Club is currently one of five designated Safe Spaces in Ridgefield.

From left, Ridgefield High School senior Briony Sekelsky and Jeff Goncalves, the senior program director and keystone advisor for
Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield, celebrated the successful launch of Sekelsky's new initiative Safe Spaces. The Boys & Girls Club is currently one of five designated Safe Spaces in Ridgefield.

Jeff Goncalves

RIDGEFIELD – With help from the Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield and other town organizations, Ridgefield resident Briony Sekelsky, 17, launched the Safe Spaces initiative to provide people in need of help with a safe place to go.

A senior at Ridgefield High School, Sekelsky said she was inspired to launch Safe Spaces in Ridgefield in order to achieve a longtime goal of hers: the Girl Scouts’ Gold Award. The Gold Award, Sekelsky said, entails a major service project and is the highest level for a Girl Scout to achieve. In order to get the Gold Award, Girl Scouts are required to create, plan and organize an initiative that impacts society.

Sekelsky said it’s a long process to achieve the Gold Award, since scouts have to create a pitch, assemble a team and get their project approved. After their project’s approved, she said scouts have to complete at least 80 hours of work to finish their project, and then get approval on their finished project before they can receive the award.

Nevertheless, Sekelsy said, “I always knew this was something I wanted to do.”

Getting started

Sekelsky has been going to the Boys & Girls Club since she was a child. This past summer, she worked at the Club as a counselor and life guard. Beyond her schoolwork and involvement with the Boys & Girls Club, Sekelsky is a Girl Scout with Troop 50181.

She started working on her Gold Award project by creating a website that offered tips on how to be safe in town. Things started picking up around January 2021 when the idea snowballed from a website into a community initiative that identified places in town where youth could go if they needed help. 

Since the Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield is “a really big place for kids in town,” Sekelsky said she reached out to Jeff Goncalves, the Club’s senior program director and keystone advisor, and pitched her idea to see if he could help and if she could use the Club as a starting point for her initiative.

“It was really nice,” Sekelsky said about working with the Boys & Girls Club on her initiative. “I was able to work with people I’ve grown up around, so it was definitely a lot more comfortable for me to talk to these people and receive their feedback and it’s just nice knowing that once again the Boys & Girls Club is part of something to benefit the community and make it a better place.”

“I’m just truly proud of her,” Goncalves said. “She’s gone above and beyond to make sure the community and the club is a safe space.”

Her initiative has identified the Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield, the Ridgefield Police Department, Deborah Ann’s Sweet Shoppe, the Ridgefield Fire Department and Ridgefield Running Company as Safe Spaces around town.

“We’ve had a working relationship with Briony prior to this initiative, so joining her on this project was any easy 'Yes,'” said Captain Jeff Raines of the Ridgefield Police Department. “Being a counselor at the Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield, we get to see Briony throughout the year. She assisted with the 2022 Junior Police Academy and several other events that the Police Department and the Boys & GirlsClub attend.”

Although he said the Ridgefield Police Department has always been considered a safe place, Raines said it was an honor to be added to the list of Safe Space locations. 

“We want to encourage everyone to come to the police department or call us whenever needed,” Raines said. “We're always here to help.”

Ridgefield Running Company owner Megan Searfoss said that when Sekelsky approached her business about becoming a Safe Space, it was an easy conversation.

“The Safe Space concept is brilliant and we were excited to take part in her project,” Searfoss said. “Briony not only designated the space but provided the protocol for our team to follow should a child need assistance.  Ridgefield Running will continue to offer this moving forward.”

After figuring out the locations that would be designated as Safe Spaces, Sekelsky said she had a guidance sheet that she gave to each location with step-by-step guidance on how to handle certain safety situations. 

As well as working with the Ridgefield Police Department to create guidance for Safe Spaces, Sekelsky said she talked to kids in town and asked them what were some common occurrences in which they felt uncomfortable or unsafe in town. The kids gave her some ideas and told her about instances where they’d been followed in town. Sekelsky used what she learned to create steps on what kids should do if they’re being followed, being bullied or are lost; she also included important phone numbers for them to call, such as the Ridgefield Police Department, the Ridgefield Fire Department and 9-1-1.

Spreading the word

Sekelsky said her initiative officially launched a few weeks ago when she reached out to the community about Safe Spaces.

“That was basically the big step,” she said, “because that’s when the whole community found out about it and people would then tell their kids and that’s how the word got around, which is the most important step to actually begin it.”

As well as being surprised by the amount of community support Safe Spaces received, Sekelsky said she felt really proud about her community’s reaction, adding, “The support was really overwhelming.”

Since she initially reached out to the community about Safe Spaces, she said other businesses have reached out to her with an interest in becoming a Safe Space. At this time, Sekelsky said she’s working on adding two more businesses to Safe Spaces.

Just a few weeks ago, Sekelsky submitted her final report for the Girls Scouts of Connecticut to review. Her final report was officially approved on Sept. 19, and Sekelsky is now working on the final step, which is to do an interview with Girls Scouts of America and deliver a presentation on her initiative from its start to where it is now.

For the time being, Sekelsky said she’s working on finalizing other locations as Safe Spaces. She’s also working on ways for the Boys & Girls Club to sustain the project, such as checking in with businesses to see if they’re willing to be designated as Safe Spaces and checking in to see if there are any new businesses interested in joining.

Businesses and organizations interested in being part of Safe Spaces are invited to contact Goncalves via email at jgoncalves@bgcridgefield.org.