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Mariah’s Challenge Rewards 140 Teens With $1,000 Scholarships for Not Drinking

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Communities that have accepted Mariah's ChallengeAfter Leo McCarthy’s 14-year-old daughter, Mariah, was killed by a 20-year-old drunk driver in 2007 while walking on a sidewalk with friends near her home in Butte, Montana, he issued a challenge to teens who attended a memorial service.

As Lan Trinh reports in a CNN article appearing on

‘If you stick with me for four years,’ he said during her eulogy, ‘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.’

McCarthy has lived up to his end of the bargain. Along with Jimm Kilmer and Chad Okrusch, the fathers of Mariah’s two friends who survived the accident, McCarthy has given $1,000 scholarships to more than 140 high-school graduates who have taken Mariah’s Challenge.

Teens can go online and sign a pledge to not drink until they are 21, and not get into a car with someone who has been drinking, Trinh notes. As the end of their senior year in high school approaches, if the teens have not been convicted of underage possession of alcohol, they are eligible to submit an application for a scholarship, which includes a 300-word essay about how Mariah’s Challenge has affected them. McCarthy, Kilmer and Okrusch choose the award recipients based on the essay and an interview.

Trinh quotes McCarthy as saying that although Butte is a town of integrity and character, it “allows certain things to continue, and drinking underage and drinking and driving is a situation that’s continued. It has to be acknowledged, and it has to be stopped.” Butte is not the only Montana town that is struggling with the problem, Trinh writes, noting that, “Nationwide, Montana routinely ranks in the top five per capita for drunken-driving fatalities.”

But legislators have taken action to address the situation, with such measures as the 24/7 Sobriety Program, which 16 counties have implemented (including Butte’s), in which anyone arrested for a second drunk driving charge must submit to two alcohol breath tests daily.

According to Mariah’s Challenge, as of the beginning of 2011, the Challenge had expanded beyond Butte to 22 other Montana towns, as well as communities in Idaho, Iowa, North Carolina, Washington, and Wyoming, and is making an impact. “For example, the Butte area reduced alcohol related fatalities by 44% from 2009 to 2010. Changing culture is like moving mountains. In Butte we’ve done both,” Mariah’s Challenge website says.

The Challenge asks the following of teens, parents, and the larger community:

•    If you are under 21, do not drink and never get in a car with somebody who has been drinking.
•    If you are over 21, do not drink and drive, and be a good role model for our children.
•    If you sell alcohol, check IDs, train your employees to obey the law, and keep alcohol out of the hands of our children.
•    If you are a part of our justice system, enforce our laws and keep our children safe.

Parents, teens, and others seeking resources to help teens stop drinking and driving can find many at Mariah’s Challenge, such as  “Neuroscience for Kids,””What’s your poison? Alcohol,” and “Parents. The Anti-Drug.”

Here is a video slide show about Mariah’s Challenge:

Image by Mariah’s Challenge, used under Fair Use: Reporting.


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