Safe Community Wood Buffalo impacts teens with mock crash scenarios
By Dawn Booth, Connect Weekly
Teens are getting a grim reminder this week on the dangers of driving under the influence during the sixth annual Safe Community Wood Buffalo’s (SCWB) PARTY program.
The program invites Grade 9 students (aged 14 and 15) from high schools of both Fort McMurray school districts each year for a school day of education and awareness on road safety.
The program’s PARTY abbreviation stands for Prevent Alcohol and Risk-related Trauma in Youth, which is an internationally-known program created by a triage nurse at Sunnybrook Hospital in Ontario in the 1980s.
SCWB’s Youth Impact Coordinator Melanie Murrin has been facilitating the program since 2014. She’s also a survivor from a DUI accident. In 2007, Murrin was hit by an impaired gravel truck driver. The result from the collision left her with life altering injuries.
Nine years later, she’s had five facial reconstructions and has had a total of 17 titanium plates and over 70 screws implanted into her face, a plastic temporal lobe implant, a dental bridge to replace four of her teeth, six fractured ribs, multiple fractured vertebrae, mild to moderate brain injury and permanent damage to her face, neck, shoulder and spine.
“I will never be the same person that I used to be, but I do what I can to prevent this from happening to someone else,” she said. “This program is very personal to me, and my family, as we have been directly impacted by impaired driving.”
Murrin first became a volunteer speaker for the PARTY Program in 2010, and was later employed by SCWB in January 2014. She continues to share her personal experience with the youth and explains SCWB’s ultimate goal is to ensure they are making good decisions.
“We hope that the youth of our community will walk away from this program with the education and knowledge of how to make the smartest decision for themselves when faced with challenging situations, such as; impaired drivers, drugged drivers, distracted drivers, etc.,” she said. “Ideally, they are our future and that is the reason we begin with them.”
An unreal reality check
Coordinator says teens faced with emotional situations
This year’s PARTY Program started on April 11 at the Royal Canadian Legion and will wrap up on April 20. The program first welcomes students by preparing them with a rundown of what practices and activities will take place.
Once outside, they are introduced to a mock motor vehicle collision, which has volunteer actors playing the roles of an impaired driver and a victim trapped inside the vehicle with multiple injuries. The mock collision is staged for educational and training purposes only.
“This mock scene has one of the greatest impacts throughout the day, as students are seeing first-hand how dramatic and traumatizing the results of impaired, drugged or distracted driving can create a ripple effect on the community,” Melanie Murrin explained.
During the program, Murrin said students are faced with a variety of emotional situations, which effects them all differently.
“Many students will cry and find it emotionally challenging to watch, especially if they have been impacted themselves by a similar situation,” she said. “As a result, many students are still asking the same questions of: “Why do people keep doing this” and our best response is that, perhaps they don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions.”
Throughout the years, Murrin said the results have been rewarding as students have approached her to personally thank her and the organization for impacting their lives. She further shared how one student came back as a volunteer for the program.
“The feedback from parents, students and school staff that have attended the program years later is still an outstanding response,” she said. “I can recall one specific student, a few years ago, that came through the program and shared with us a story of how his family was directly impacted by impaired driving and he was very impressed with how the program was educating people on the ripple effect that choices make. This student has even volunteered to take part in the program to help us in continuing to educate the youth in our community on such important subjects.”
Murrin encourages parents to keep having conversations of driving responsibly with their youth, as the discussion can save their life, and the lives of others. She understands it’s not an easy talk to have, but there is plenty of community help available.
“It is important and very difficult for parents to have these types of conversations with their children. Finding a common starting ground can be a challenge, but some of the best ways to break the ice between them can be with a parent/teen date,” she advised. “Setting aside some extra time to talk with your teenager on their level and comfort zone is important, so they don’t feel like they are being attacked.”
To learn more about the program and other services for youth in the Wood Buffalo region, visit the Safe Community Wood Buffalo website at www.safecommunitywb.ca.
Also, Alberta Health Services, Some Other Solutions and Canadian Mental Health Association of Wood Buffalo are other places to learn how to talk to teens about drugs and alcohol, and their choices when faced with peer pressure.