LONDONDERRY — Nearly 80 Granite State residents have lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents this year, according to the state Department of Transportation.
As state ambassadors to the N.H. Driving Towards Zero program, members of Londonderry High School’s Pay It Forward Club are working toward a safer future for local drivers.
They’ll start by reaching out to their classmates.
Statistics show that novice drivers ages 16 and 17 hold approximately 2 percent of the state’s active driver’s licenses but are responsible for around 17 percent of the state’s motor vehicle accidents.
While there are many reasons that accidents happen, experts believe distracted driving due to texting and cell phone usage is likely the most common culprit.
Earlier this month, the 20-member club made up of juniors and seniors learned they’d been chosen to be representatives for the statewide initiative.
Program officials reached out to the local teens after hearing of their many acts of volunteerism in the area.
“They’ll visit a number of places, including other schools as well as fairs and outdoor festivals,” said Katie Sullivan, the club’s adviser Katie Sullivan and one of the high school’s assistant principals.
Club members will attend a training workshop in Manchester next week, where they’ll be asked to take the Driving Towards Zero pledge. By taking the pledge, the teens will vow to always drive sober, obey seatbelt laws and speed limits, avoid distractions such as texting or talking on the phone while driving, and share their knowledge with others as much as they can.
Driving Towards Zero spokesman Lisa Cramb said she initially learned about the high school’s club during another charity event at Hampshire First Bank in Londonderry.
The club members have partnered with the local bank since last year, with bank employees preparing homemade desserts and goodies for the teens to take to the Sonshine Soup Kitchen in Derry on their regular volunteer missions.
“These kids just have amazing enthusiasm and so many great ideas,” Cramb said. “They haven’t even gotten started yet, and they’re already planning to challenge other high schools in the area to increase the number of pledges.”
“As adults, it’s sometimes hard for us to get through to the teenagers,” she said. “So having these kids here to teach their peers about safe driving is so very important.”
Senior Stevee Carolla, one of the club’s founding members, said she’s excited to embark on yet another new adventure.
“A lot of my friends say they don’t text when they’re driving but many of us do,” she said. “I’ve done it myself in the past. But knowing what I know now, we can teach others by example.”
“It’s such a great cause,” added fellow senior Jenna Horne.
The girls are no strangers when it comes to lending a helping hand.
While both of them work after-school jobs and have hectic schedules, they agreed its important to still make time for others.
“Not only are you doing something good for the community, I get a lot out of it myself,” junior Chantal Reid said.
The club was first formed last fall, after School Board member Nancy Hendricks approached Sullivan in hopes of getting a couple of students to volunteer at a local fundraiser for a cancer charity.
“We worked a full day and at the end of the day, the kids just kept telling me how much fun they had,” Sullivan said. “I told them that all we’re doing is paying it forward.”
And with that, a new club was born.
In the months to follow, the teens became regular fixtures at various community events: volunteering at the local soup kitchen, collecting Toys for Tots and handing out water to runners in charity runs.
By November, the club had started a new tradition at the school — a breakfast for local veterans. The breakfast was a huge success, with more than 20 area vets walking through the door in the first half-hour.
Though it’s only September, it looks like it’s going to be another eventful year for the Pay It Forward Club. But that doesn’t mean they’ve ruled out the possibility of taking on any new causes. “I tell the kids, if you’re passionate about something, tell the rest of us about it,” said Sullivan. “It might end up becoming yet another way we can pay it forward.”
By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent