If you've never heard of Leo McCarthy, allow us to introduce him. Mr. McCarthy is a lifelong Butte, Montana resident who has worked in insurance since 1987. That is not what makes this man unique, however. In 2007, Mr. McCarthy lost his daughter, Mariah, when she was struck and killed by a 20-year old drunk driver. Instead of letting his grief get the better of him or seeking revenge, Mr. McCarthy resolved not to allow his daughter to simply become another statistic. Instead, at Mariah's memorial service, he created a remarkable legacy for both himself and his daughter. He asked those teenagers in attendance to commit to making a promise to Mariah - not to drink underage, not to get in a car with anyone that has been drinking, don't use illegal drugs, to talk openly and honestly with parents, and to make a difference in the community. In return for those promises, Mr. McCarthy vowed to be there at high school graduation with "some money" for those kids.
I'd say he has more than lived up to his end of the bargain. To date, along with Jimm Kilmer and Chad Okrusch, the fathers of two of Mariah's friends who were also injured in the drunk driving accident, Mr. McCarthy has offered $1,000 scholarships to over 140 high-school graduates. In his own words, Mr. McCarthy "just wanted to give them encouragement and to tell them that you can always be better and you can always be greater".
Mariah's Challenge, as it has come to be known, has only grown larger and larger. The promise is simple for teens - do not drink and do not get into a car with someone who has been drinking. During their senior year of high school, they are eligible to apply for a scholarship if they have not been convicted of underage possession of alcohol or any drug-related offense. But Mariah's Challenge is bigger than that now. Individuals of all ages are making promises of their own - parents promise to never drink and drive and to be good role models for young people, law enforcement officers promise to obey and enforce the laws and to pay special attention to keeping our young people safe. If you are interested in taking Mariah's Challenge, check out the group's website here.
We at I Drive Smart have been truly touched by the story of this man, his daughter, and their community in Butte since we heard about it. It is one of our primary goals to reduce the number of injuries and deaths caused by underage drinking and drug use. The efforts of these proactive individuals make that goal a distinct and very real possibility. For parents, take note - it is often advantageous to incentivize good behavior instead of solely punishing misbehavior. Equally importantly, however, you should focus on imparting to your children that being drug- and alcohol-free is a reward in itself. A drug- and alcohol- free teenager will perform better in school and in life, and doors will be opened that would not otherwise be there. Why not take a leap and make a real commitment to live a better life. Take Mariah's Challenge with I Drive Smart!
"Let's prevent drinking and destructive decisions from taking any more of Butte's most valuable asset - it's youth." - Leo McCarthy