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"Words to be Heard"

Edgar Snyder & Associates Scholarship Contest

Heidi Eastep

Mayor Wayne Hippo
4022 Ridge Avenue Altoona, PA 16602

Dear Mayor Hippo:

Heidi Eastep In regards to my friend, Ethan Smith, it may seem perhaps unnecessary to explain the reason for writing this letter. As I am sure you are aware, his death, due to an alcohol related car crash on 1-99, near the Logan Towne Center, has recently been the top story on TV 10, Channel 6 News, and in The Altoona Mirror. Logan Town Center was once, for me, a great place full of special memories of shopping with friends; but now, my only memory is one of sorrow and loss. The scene included two totaled cars, twisted debris, tire tracks, and one dead body, Ethan. Words cannot express the remorse I have over Ethan. This trial tests our strength and makes us look at life with a different perspective. From this dark view, however, comes an idea filled with the light of hope. Thus, Mr. Mayor, I feel that incidents such as these have occurred too many times, causing too many futures to be smashed to rubble; therefore, I am asking that you back the following proposal in order to prevent such unnecessary losses. First though, we must grasp the scope of this terrible trend.

Currently, across our country, teenagers are spending $5.5 billion dollars on alcohol, which is more than an average person spends on soft drinks, tea, milk, juice, coffee, and books combined. All too often, with alcohol consumption comes the unthinkable... driving drunk. Approximately, 17,488 people are killed in alcohol related accidents in the U.S., which means that every thirty minutes someone's life is ended due to the toxic mix of alcohol and automobiles. Daily, 11,318 teenagers try alcohol for the first time, which is extremely high compared to first time use for other drugs: marijuana 6,488; cocaine 2,786; and heroin 386. Poor decision making and easy accessibility make the alcohol too strong to resist. Ethan was once a part of these sorry statistics and as alcohol is by far the most abused drug among teenagers, with approximately 31.5 % of all high school students admitting to hazardous drinking (five or more drinks) during the preceding thirty days. How can we stop more "Ethan's" from taking that first drink and more importantly from taking that drink and then getting behind the wheel? With nearly 80% of students consuming alcohol before graduating from high school, it may seem an impossible task. However, these facts are not only the results of peer pressure among teenagers, but also the influence of alcohol in television and commercials. It is proven that a typical teenager is inundated by more than 1,000 commercials for alcohol in one year, and 56% of students believe that alcohol advertisements encourage them to drink. Against this flood of pro-consumption advertising, where is the opposing voice that speaks against drinking and driving? If students are watching untold minutes worth of alcohol promotion yearly, how can those voices be silenced when compared to a 45-minute assembly opposing alcohol once a year at school? They cannot be, not with the current amount of anti-consumption material available. Teenagers do not understand these facts. Teenagers do not realize that alcohol does kill. Teenagers do not believe that they can become the victim of a drink. Ethan was most definitely a victim in an imperfect world.

In a perfect world, I could have changed my course of actions that night. If only I knew prior to Ethan's death the truth about alcohol, if only my opinions had been shaped differently, I could have done something to prevent his death. Among my friends, alcohol was a social thrill, not an opportunity for death to knock at your door. Regretfully, I too, was drinking that night in oblivion of the harmful possibilities of my actions and therefore, I was unable to prevent Ethan from driving home. If only I had not been drinking that night, I could have taken his keys or driven him home. I could write a million things I wish I could change about that night, but the reality is that I was not prepared nor did I understand the consequences that alcohol can have on a person. Before Ethan's death, maybe you, too, Mr. Mayor, had fallen under the same misconception that drinking and driving among teenagers is not a problem in our community and country. Maybe you still feel that way. Thinking that this was the incident for the decade and the last sad story of this kind that we hear, but statistics promise us that we will see more Ethan's. Look again at the images of the twisted metal in the local news and study the memorial service photos in The Altoona Mirror. So, is this the last incident of its kind? Should we all just give up hope of changing today's youth? No, we cannot and should not if we at all believe that people can change and youthful loss is not inevitable. Join me in not allowing the ugly, national statistics to keep their promise in Blair County.

My proposal to combat this fatal unawareness is a movie production that reveals the true impact of alcohol among real teenagers. This proposal although at first glance, seemingly large in scale, is completely manageable if the following proposal is adopted. My proposal is to create a film with a message, a lifesaving message, that is filled with “Words to be Heard.” Recently, a similar movie "with a message" was made by a church called "Facing the Giants" that was amazingly inspirational. This film was a combination of amateurs and a $20,000 dollar budget that resulted in selling 2.7 million dollars in ten days, placing number thirteen in the box office rankings. Inspired by a church pastor with a vision to reach the world about Christianity's positive message from Albany, Georgia, this film has had a tremendous impact. Likewise, Ethan’s death has created a passion in me to make such a film in honor of him, depicting the implications of drinking and driving, while reaching out from our county to our state and on to our country from the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Obviously, the plot will be based upon Ethan’s life - the well-liked high school athlete that constantly went out of his way to make others feel welcomed; the well-liked "kid next door" turned victim along with the other 17,487 people who died in alcohol related crashes this year. With lots of support from our community, I am sure that people would be willing to donate money, supplies, and their time and talent. In terms of the actors, the most effective ones will be people playing their own true part in Ethan's drama. However, it is understandable that other actors will be needed to replace Ethan and his family. Quite easily volunteers from local Arts majors at Penn State Altoona, as well as, Altoona Community Theater (ACT) could be recruited in order to fill this void. To instruct the inexperienced actors, an acting coach would be required, as well as a film director and a camera operator. This should be no problem, as our community is full of talented people that would be willing to assist in this film. Involving our local police force and firemen will be a great additive effect to the film. These men are the only ones that can truly represent the emotions and feelings that night Ethan died. This movie along with community interaction can have a huge impact on all society. Of course, your backing and assistance as Mayor will be an integral part making this film possible.

Within the movie, the opening scene would be me writing this letter to you, then fading into a flashback scene showing a little boy and a little girl playing in a sandbox with toy cars and dump trucks. This scene shows the innocence of children as they crash the cars into one another and chase each other round and round. Fade to the present day, with a car driving to the high school and following typical days in Ethan's life in order to develop the plot and the characters' personalities. This plot could then expand into Ethan going to one party and coming home safely, with foreshadowing that something bad may occur. Logically, it would follow with another scene including a speaker talking to the students about alcohol, and Ethan physically there but mentally absent-minded, focusing only upon a text message conversation on his cell phone. At the climax of the film, the scene would show the party, keg and all, and reveal the truth that everyone there was under the same presumption that alcohol is not life threatening, simply just a chance to relax. Next scene, reveal that as Ethan leaves the party, no one is aware of the danger or the outcome of their actions. No one could stop him from leaving. Show Ethan driving in his car at high speed on 1-99 heading toward the Logan Towne Center and losing control of his car, causing it to roll severely, several times before coming to a halt. Finally, expose the totaled car and the blood that drips from Ethan's face. Prominently show the tears and the sadness of the local police and firemen on the scene. Conclude to the movie, showing me finishing my letter addressed to you, with the final saying, "These are words to be heard." What a powerful media experience.

Among all of the possible medias, movies today exert more persuasive influence on tears than ever before. However, the impact this movie can have is just the starting point. Its true power lies in its potential to be expanded upon. By getting support groups such as Students Against Drunk Driving and Mothers Against Drunk Driving involved, we can widen this opportunity for Ethan’s words to be heard. In Blair County, we will set aside one week that focuses upon alcohol awareness where schools show the movie and then throughout the week, follow-up with alcohol pledges, speakers, and personal testimonies, all supported by local agencies existing. And that is just the start, as individual schools could create further programs tailored to their own talents and resources. Although Ethan's death closed one door, it has opened many others. The traditional Red Ribbon week at schools has become a minimal impact on high school students. Here is the opportunity to expand upon the minor drug awareness already existing in schools and to take a chance to save a life.

In this way, perhaps some good can come out of a bad experience and Ethan's life will have an impact in his death. This movie will benefit so many people, not just our community but hopefully our state, and perhaps even our country. Additionally, the money raised from this movie will go towards alcohol education in our schools, fund support groups, provide public awareness information, and scholarships for those interested in careers surrounding prevention and rehabilitation.

Mayor Hippo, I ask you to consider this proposal and realize that our community needs to change, and our country needs to face the facts that alcohol consumption and driving under the influence is a growing problem, particularly among the country's youth. Your support and financial backing will be greatly appreciated and in fact essential. These are the words that need to be heard and through a movie involving our community, we have the opportunity to prevent more incidents and hardships such as Ethan's.


Heidi J. Eastep