May 15, 2014, Pittsburgh, PA – In just a moment, everything can change. Thomas Jefferson student Taylor Childers knows this much too well. In 2008, she and her best friend, Tia, were being driven by Tia's father to a 6th grade party when tragedy struck. An underage, drunk, and drugged driver collided head-on with their vehicle, instantly killing Tia, age 12, and causing serious injury to both Tia's father and herself.
Since this life-changing event, Taylor, a Pleasant Hills resident and now a graduating senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, has devoted herself to keeping her best friend's memory alive through advocacy work. Most recently, Taylor created an award-winning slideshow presentation to tell her story, winning her $1,000 in the 2014 Edgar Snyder & Associates "Words to be Heard" Scholarship Contest.
"Words to be Heard" challenges students across Western PA to create projects discouraging their peers from underage drinking, drunk driving, or texting while driving. Students had the option of submitting entries in the form of videos, PowerPoint presentations, websites, essays, or any other creative format of their choice.
And her "words" are being heard. Not only has Taylor received a scholarship for her efforts, but she is also a recipient of the Governor's Pathfinder Award for activism, founder of her school's Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter, and one of 12 students selected nationally for involvement in a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) activist group.
But her involvement doesn't just prevent future drunk driving accidents, it also helps her personally move forward and grow. "My activism is my self care," Taylor says. "If I didn't have the ability to do my outreach I wouldn't be where I am today."
My activism is my self care. If I didn't have the ability to do my outreach I wouldn't be where I am today.Taylor Childers, "Words to be Heard" Scholarship Recipient
Taylor hopes her presentation will help others relate to people involved in drunk driving accidents. "I want people to be more sensitive to victims…and realize how life changing it can be. They won't understand until they actually feel the magnitude of it."
Attorney Edgar Snyder, whose law firm helps victims of drunk driving accidents, personally presented Taylor with the scholarship at an awards dinner Monday. This year will mark the 70th scholarship given by the firm, totaling over $100,000 since the program's inception in 2007.
"Year after year I am blown away by the new ways students present this message to make it resonate with their peers," says Attorney Edgar Snyder. "I think the biggest benefit to the students isn't the scholarship money itself, but the conversations started about the dangers of drunk driving and texting while driving."
Taylor plans to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania this fall to study early education.
The winners of the "Words to be Heard" Scholarship Contest were selected during a luncheon at the offices of Edgar Snyder & Associates by a panel of judges who advocate teen safety in their communities: Debra Iwaniec, President of the Trooper Iwaniec Memorial Foundation and Health & Physical Education Teacher at Yough High School; Trooper Robin M. Mungo, PR Officer of the PA State Police, Troop B Pittsburgh; Brady Sheehan, Duquesne University Student and 2013 Words to be Heard Scholarship winner; Deputy Jason Tarap, Crime Prevention Specialist, Allegheny County Sheriff's Office; and Chris Vitale MSN, RN, Injury Prevention Manager at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
Six other winners were recognized for their submissions at the dinner ceremony: Zachary Nimmo of North Allegheny High School (Allegheny Co.) took home the grand-prize scholarship of $5,000. Three scholarships for $2,500 were awarded to Taylor Hanson of Greensburg Central Catholic High School (Westmoreland Co.), Ryan King of Bishop McCort High School (Cambria Co.), and Whitney Shetler of Chestnut Ridge High School (Bedford Co.). Two additional $1,000 scholarships went to Amber Machosky of Albert Gallatin Area High School (Fayette Co.), and Allyn Propheter of Maplewood High School (Crawford Co.).
View the winning entries and learn more about the Edgar Snyder & Associates "Words to be Heard" Scholarship Contest here.