When Miss South Dakota, Loren Vaillancourt, arrives in Las Vegas tomorrow for the 2011 Miss America Pageant, she'll be carrying an important safety message to America's drivers: "When people take unnecessary risks and drive distracted, it kills innocent people."
Loren knows the costs of this epidemic firsthand. In May 2009 her brother Kelson, 21, was killed while riding in a car driven by a co-worker who was distracted. But this young woman is transforming her grief into action by taking her message to South Dakota schools.
"It is very devastating to have to tell my brother's story over and over again," Loren says, "I get emotional every single time I do it. But no family should have to go through the pain my family has endured."
When Loren talks to school kids who are still years away from driving, she has another pretty important safety message: "I also talk about how important it is as a passenger to make sure the driver stays focused. Because my brother was killed in the passenger seat."
As Miss South Dakota, and as a contestant for Miss America, Loren is in a unique position to educate others. And she is making the most of it.
"We could decrease the number of accidents if people just paid attention to driving," says Loren. "That's all they have to do."
But this program also has an innovative twist. From now until January 15, Loren's video diary will be posted on the State Farm Teen Driver Safety Facebook page. For every time viewers click "like" on one of Loren's diary posts, State Farm will add one dollar to the grant amount.
That's right; the amount awarded, up to $10,000, depends on the number of Facebook users who "like" Loren's entries. If that's what it takes to get America's webizens to see and hear Loren's message, I am all for it!
Congratulations, Loren! I wish you the best in next week's pageant, and I thank you for your important service.