Underage drinking is a factor in a host of serious problems including homicide, suicide, traumatic injury, violent and property crime, alcohol poisoning and need for treatment for alcohol abuse and dependence to name a few.
Underage drinking also has a high cost in Montana. Underage drinking cost the citizens of Montana $251 million in 2007. Youth violence and traffic crashes attributable to alcohol use by underage youth in Montana represent the largest costs for the state. But perhaps the highest price paid for when youth drink and drive is often times somebody’s life.
On the night of October 28, Mariah Daye McCarthy died after being hit by an underage drunk driver. Valerie Kilmer and Kaitlyn Okrusch, who were out walking with Mariah that evening in Butte where they lived, were also hit and injured by the driver.
At his daughter’s funeral, Mariah’s father, Leo McCarthy, issued a challenge to the Butte community to change the culture that accepts underage drinking and turns a blind eye to drinking and driving.
The challenge, which has become known as Mariah’s challenge, evolved out of a gathering of Mariah’s friends at the McCarthy’s home in the days after her death. McCarthy could see their pain and confusion and he wanted to soothe that pain.
“They were all fumbling and bumbling about. I told them that they needed to look beyond the death toward something more hopeful,” McCarthy stated on the Web site for the challenge. “As I was doing the eulogy, I wanted to talk to that group of kids and let them know that there is more to the world.”
The challenge offered at the funeral could have been just a lamentation of a grieving father — but others have taken up Mariah’s Challenge and brought it out of the personal and into the world. On the Web site, several pages are filled with individuals stating their intent to hold to Mariah’s Challenge.
The challenge itself is very simple. It is a commitment that has four separate ideas: if you are under 21, do not drink and drive 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 part of our justice system, enforce our laws and keep our children safe.
On Oct. 12, McCarthy will be the main speaker as Mariah’s Challenge comes to Superior to talk to students and the community. They will meet with the elementary students in the high school gym at 12:30 pm and will also meet with the high school and junior high school students at 2:00 p.m. Finally, McCarthy will speak at to the community at 6:30 pm in the high school
gym. This is the same day that the school will have a barbecue with the parents and community, as part of the program Lights on After School.
“I have heard it is an excellent presentation, and one that
will make a huge difference,” said Dan Lucier, counselor at the Superior High School.”
Lucier said that they have been trying to get Mariah’s Challenge to come speak in Superior for a few years. Lucier said that for him personally the issue of alcohol abuse and underage drinking hits close to home.
“I have seen so many families broken and battered in Western Montana in my 51 years,” Lucier said. “I have had several students
that I was very close to that are not here today because of either over consumption or misuse of alcohol. I think that every family in America has been touched in a negative way by alcohol’s misuse.”
Also happening that night, beginning at 6 p.m., is the 21st Century’s Grant Annual “Lights on After School” welcome back barbeque. The classrooms will be open and parents will be able to see what students have been working on. Dawn Bauer, who organized the event, said that the Mont Cas test results will also be handed back to parents. The girl scouts will also have a display.
The 21st Century Grant Community Learning Center provides students with after school programs, tutoring programs and summer school during the summer. The event will run until 8 p.m.