Chris. Darcy. Paku. Sontiana. Brooke.
Their names – and, more importantly, their stories – are still burned into my memory. Chris was driving drunk when he struck and killed a mom who was near her disabled car. Darcy thought she was safe to drive home after sleeping off a night of partying, but she fatally hit a motorcyclist. Paku killed a bicyclist with her car after she made the decision to text while driving. Sontiana, who was not wearing a seatbelt, lost control of her van and is paralyzed. Brooke severely injured a man because she didn’t take the five minutes to scrape the snow and ice off her car’s windshield.
They, along with many others, have shared their stories at annual presentations to more than 5,500 10th grade students from about 40 area high schools at ThedaCare’s P.A.R.T.Y. (Prevent Alcohol and Risk Related Trauma in Youth) at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.
The two-day P.A.R.T.Y., which kicks off today, is put on by the Trauma Center at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah and sponsored by ThedaCare Family of Foundations and other community partners. Grants totaling $6,000 were awarded from three funds within the Community Foundation, including a $1,500 grant from the Bright Idea Fund.
For 15 years, I was behind the scenes of the regional event as an employee at ThedaCare, and now I work for a sponsor of the program. Next year I will attend as the parent of a sophomore new driver. And yet P.A.R.T.Y. never ceases to have a strong emotional impact on me each time I sit in the theater.
These survivors, victims and perpetrators openly and honestly – often with shaky voices – explain how poor decisions impacted not only their lives, but the lives of others too. They talk about being imprisoned, getting in debt, killing their best friend, or robbing a parent of a child.
P.A.R.T.Y empowers young people to make informed, safe choices by shedding light on the dangers of risk-taking behaviors, their life-altering outcomes, and the importance of personal responsibility. It includes a dramatization with student actors who portray teenagers out for a good time, only to have their night end in tragedy. Local firefighters, paramedics, police officers, doctors, nurses, coroners and judges appear throughout the show.
Teens are young and think “it can’t happen to me,” but it can. According to trauma surgeon Dr. Ray Georgen, who has served as the event’s emcee, “statistically, teens and young adults aged 15 to 24 have the greatest incidence of trauma injury and death.”
Although teens are the target audience, parents are invited to attend to encourage conversation, and P.A.R.T.Y. is well covered in the media. The message is vital for all drivers to hear and take to heart.
“My life was forever changed because I chose to text and drive,” Sontiana said. “Because of that meaningless text message, I will now live the rest of my life in a wheelchair. It’s a simple message I hope all drivers take to heart: there is no text worth risking a life. It really can wait.”
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