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Imagine kissing your 14-year-old daughter and watching her walk down the street with some friends, only to learn a few hours later that you would never see her again.
Five years ago, Mariah McCarthy of Butte, Montana, was killed when a 20-year-old drunk driver swerved off the street onto a sidewalk where she was walking with some friends. Mariah was hit and killed only a block away from her home.
Her grieving father Leo McCarthy decided to take action to help prevent what happened to his daughter from happening to another child. Butte has a history of underage drinking and driving, and what’s more, Montana routinely ranks in the top 5 states for drunken driving fatalities. Leo is determined to make a change and stop this unfortunate (and frankly, tragic) pattern.
Remembering his daughter, Leo told CNN, "Mariah is forever 14. I can't get her back, but I can help other parents keep their kids safe.”
In his effort to stop Butte’s pattern of alcohol-related accidents and deaths, he created “Mariah’s Challenge.” The concept is simple: sign an online pledge not to drink until age 21 or get into a car with a driver who has been drinking. If a signed student makes it through high school without having been convicted of underage alcohol possession, he will be eligible to apply for a college scholarship. The application consists of an interview and a 300 word essay on how Mariah’s Challenge has affected the student’s life and decisions throughout high school.
During Mariah’s eulogy, Leo stated: "If you stick with me for four years, don't use alcohol, don't use illicit drugs but give back to your community, work with your parents and talk to your parents, I'll be there with a bunch of other people to give you money."
As if that’s not enough, Leo McCarthy spreads his scholarship money out. This past year, not one or two, but forty-two high school seniors received $1,000 scholarships through Mariah’s Challenge. Since the Challenge began, Leo has given scholarships to over 140 high school graduates.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of this entire story is that Mariah’s Challenge is making changes everywhere. It began in Butte, but has expanded across Montana into Washington, Idaho, Iowa, and North Carolina. Nearly 8,000 teens have accepted the Challenge, in addition to parents and even grandparents who are signing, not for the scholarship money, but to send a message that the drinking culture in their communities must stop. If Leo McCarthy isn't a community hero, we don’t know who is.
Learn more about Mariah’s Challenge, including how to donate or sign the pledge at http://www.mariahschallenge.com/.