DGF’s “Prom Patrol” offers teenagers powerful testimony, injury prevention tips

May 21st, 2013

By Ryan Rogers

Speakers

DGF Speakers at Archbishop McCarthy High School

DAVIE, Fla. – The Darrell Gwynn Foundation’s Education & Prevention Program visited dozens of high schools in South Florida this spring as students prepared for their proms in an effort to keep teenagers safe and prevent spinal cord injuries. The Darrell Gwynn Foundation’s mission is to provide SUPPORT for people with paralysis and PREVENT spinal cord injuries.

The latest campaign of the foundation’s Education & Prevention Program was coined “Prom Patrol” and offered a series of presentations designed to teach high school students common sense ways to prevent spinal cord injuries and other serious injuries on their prom nights and beyond. Statistically, high school aged students are the most at risk to sustain spinal cord injuries. Often, prom night serves as the setting for tragic incidents that change a teenager’s life forever. The foundation, regrettably, often comes across these prom night accident stories when reviewing applications for its Wheelchair Donation Program. The Education & Prevention Program was created to prevent these injuries before they happen by targeting the most at-risk age group.

“It really makes you pause and think before you make a bad decision that could change your life forever,” said Allison, a senior at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches, Fla. after seeing a DGF presentation.

Allison’s comments are precisely the goal of the program, which teaches the dangers of drinking & driving, texting & driving, not wearing seatbelts, diving in unknown waters, playing with guns and engaging in reckless horseplay or other dangerous activities. All of these dangerous scenarios are presented through testimonials from high school students that sustained spinal cord injuries by making poor decisions in the foundation’s “It Could Happen to You” video shown at each presentation.

“Prom night is a night when a lot of kids let loose and go a little crazy,” said Micah Moreno, program services coordinator for the Darrell Gwynn Foundation whom coordinates the program with schools in Florida. “Kids feel invincible at that age and the excitement of prom and graduation sometimes makes doing something that would normally seem unreasonable and dangerous tempting to a teenager.”

As any parent who has reared a teenager can attest to, sometimes parental warnings and trendy catch phrases about not texting & driving or drinking & driving aren’t enough to make a strong impression on a teenager with a sense of invincibility or one vulnerable to peer pressure. Let’s face it, succumbing to peer pressure and pretending to know everything is what just about all of us did in high school. Even as the times change, attitudes of teenagers remain the same.

That’s why the Darrell Gwynn Foundation, in addition to its powerful “It Could Happen to You” video featuring real life scenarios, also sends speakers in wheelchairs to high schools to tell their personal stories about how their lives changed after a poor decision.

“This is really important what we are doing,” says DGF speaker Alex Lutin who sustained a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident. “Kids need to hear this stuff. They need to see it. They need to see how bad things happen and how everything changes when it does. As a peer mentor helping people after they sustain an injury I meet too many high school kids in South Florida that made a mistake like texting & driving or drinking & driving and pay a heavy price for it.”

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Ryan Gebauer

Ryan Gebauer, another DGF speaker, is also a major advocate for those diagnosed with spinal cord injuries in Florida. He is featured in the “It Could Happen to You” video and is a primary speaker presenting at dozens of schools annually for DGF. Ryan was injured in a diving accident resulting in quadriplegia. Showing amazing determination, he went on to earn multiple degrees from Florida Atlantic University and now owns a small business. Still, he offers a powerful message and reminder to students at each presentation.

“I had my whole life ahead of me,” says Gebauer. “I had hopes and dreams just like you. Now I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish since my accident, but everything is so much harder now. I depend on someone else to help me with all the things you take for granted each day. You don’t want to go through what I went through. You never want to lose your independence.”

During the “Prom Patrol” series, a special and powerful presentation was given by one of the foundation’s wheelchair recipient’s father. Dave Johnson spoke to students at St. Lucie West Centennial High School in Port St. Lucie, Fla. His son Owen, then three years-old, sustained a spinal cord injury in a car accident and his five year-old daughter Hannah was killed in the same accident when teenagers, driving while under the influence of drugs, rear ended their van while the family was on vacation.

“This is what my family looked like the day before the accident,” showed Johnson with a photo on a projector at the presentation. “And this is what my family looks like now after the accident caused by teenagers making poor decisions, minus my daughter Hannah and with my son in a wheelchair.”

The powerful presentation left the students, realizing that it could be them causing that type of tragedy with a poor decision, stunned, with many in tears at the assembly.

“That’s the impact we’re trying to make,” said DGF co-founder and board member Dr. Lisa Gwynn who was instrumental in the program’s creation. “We want to leave a lasting impression for students. We never want them to forget the day DGF visited their high school. We want them to take to heart the stories of our speakers and how much a spinal cord injury can impact their lives and their family’s lives. We want them to learn the easy ways to prevent these injuries and make better decisions in their lives because DGF was there.”

When the question was asked to an auditorium full of students at Park Vista High School after a presentation during the series by DGF staff, ‘How many of you will stop, pause and think twice before you engage in a dangerous activity?’ A unanimous show of hands from attentive students pledged to do just so. The majority of surveys returned to DGF also indicated a strong impression was made at each and every presentation.

“I think what makes our presentation so impactful are the real stories and courageous speakers,” says Moreno. “We don’t just educate students on ways to stay safe, we show them and educate them with first-hand accounts of the consequences of a poor decision. Everywhere we go, you can hear a pin drop in the schools the students are so captivated by our presentation.”

This spring the foundation presented to over 3,000 students in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and St. Lucie Counties. Each presentation spreads a message of prevention and safety. Each fall during Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week, the foundation presents to approximately 40 high schools reaching over 30,000 students in Florida. The goal of the program is to be in every high school in Florida.

If you are a principal, teacher or parent that would like to have DGF visit your high school to keep your students and teenagers safe, please click here to learn more and schedule a presentation.

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  • Larry

    Incredible what DGF is doing…great work!!