Gibson City students' campaign stresses dangers of unsafe driving
GIBSON CITY – Bonnie Arends says her whole world came crashing down on her on Jan. 17, 2003.
That's the morning when her twin sons, Greg and Steve, both seniors at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School, were riding a silver Oldsmobile on Illinois 54 outside of town when the car suddenly left the road and struck a utility pole.
Greg, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, died in the collision. Steve, who remembered to wear his seat belt, was semi-comatose for six months and needed extensive rehabilitation following the crash.
The story of Greg and Steve Arends has served as an inspiration for the students at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School.
Forty-three students and two teachers have been working together over the past year to launch a campaign called Shattered Dreams to convince young people to use safety belts, drive safely, reduce speeding and avoid drinking and driving.
Some students wrote, produced and acted in four television commercials. One featured a jogger struck by a wayward vehicle. Another showed a third-grader fetching a ball in the middle of the street who is hurt as a motorist played with his car radio.
Secretary of State Jesse White said Thursday his staff was so impressed with the student commercials that they are being shown at every driver's license facility in the state.
"These commercials will go far to make people realize they should keep their eyes on the road and not be distracted drivers," White said.
The community celebrated the safety efforts of Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School on Thursday with a rally and parade.
White presented a plaque to the students to recognize their work, and the students learned that Gov. Rod Blagojevich declared Thursday as Project Ignition: Shattered Dreams Day in Illinois.
State Farm Insurance and the National Youth Leadership Council have named the GCMS efforts one of the top 10 student projects in the country. The students will fly to Philadelphia for the national finals on March 22-25, when they will compete for a $10,000 grant for the school.
"We produced these videos to convince other young people that they need to be responsible for their actions," said Amanda Broaddus, a senior from rural Saybrook.
Other students composed and performed music and developed PowerPoint presentations to spread their message.
"Many of us play music for our churches, so we thought we'd use our talents to reach out to young people in song," said acoustic guitarist Dan Schultz, 17.
Young people erected signs through the area proclaiming, "Don't speed, buckle up, remember Greg and Steve."
Still others organized events such as mock accidents and rollover demonstrations.
Driver's education teacher Judy Weber-Jones said the project has already saved lives. Five GCMS students – Brandon Hoke, Lindita Ibishi, Jake Jenkins, Karissa Carpenter and Rana Spellmeyer – survived automobile crashes because they remembered to wear seat belts due to the program.
The students unveiled their latest commercial Thursday, depicting teens dying in a car crash after drinking at a party.
Then the 43 students climbed on two Gibson City fire trucks and rode through the community, tossing out candy and safety message pens to children along the way. The GCMS cheerleaders led special cheers for the students, and the high school band marched behind the fire trucks and performed music.
"It is inspiring to realize that the message of these young people has saved lives, not only in our community, but across the state," said Gibson City Mayor Dan Dickey.
With Steve Arends at her side, Weber-Jones wiped away a tear and thanked the community for its support of the Shattered Dreams program.
"Words cannot express how proud I am of this team," Weber-Jones said. "Without the great kids, it wouldn't happen."