“All it takes is one second,” Beach told students. “One second is all it takes for your life to change.”
The message was repeated over and over to high school students at Central Heights High School by ThinkFirst speakers Beach and Jenny Scheve during an assembly Wednesday sponsored by the school’s SADD chapter and SAFE group, Students Against Destructive Decisions and Seat belts Are For Everyone.
ThinkFirst is an organization that works to prevent traumatic injuries through education, research and policy, according to its website. The organization offers programs to educate high-risk young people about their vulnerability to brain and spinal cord injury, common causes of such injuries, and how to prevent them.
Beach, a paraplegic, and Scheve, an emergency and trauma nurse, talked to students about the importance of understanding the consequences of every decision made, emphasizing that bad things can happen to anyone.
“These injuries happen in a second, and they don’t discriminate,” Beach said. “It doesn’t matter who you are. And they last forever.”
Beach suffered a spinal cord injury when he was 21. He was a passenger in a car driven by a friend who fell asleep behind the wheel — leaving Beach paralyzed from the waist down and no movement in his fingers, he said. It was an injury that changed his life and turned his world upside down.
“Every aspect of your life is changed with an injury like this,” he said. “And the thing about these injuries ... they’re forever. Forever.”
“[I do it] because I care,” Scheve said. “I’ve been on the other side of it for so many times, and I’ve seen the destruction and the deaths and the disabilities. I care about helping to prevent it.”
As part of Scheve’s presentation, she showed students a four-minute video of what happens during a car wreck caused by texting while driving. It was an eye-opening reality check for many students, Scheve said.
During the video, many students sat in horror as they watched the car crash. Some students gasped in horror. Others buried their heads in their hands.
Dan Folsom, Central Heights school psychologist and SADD sponsor, said sometimes it takes students seeing something terrible to get them to pay attention.
“We have to hope that we can make a difference in some of them,” Folsom said. “I think it helps that they see the visual.”
Another way to get through to students, Folsom said, is by having someone who used to live a normal life, but now suffers from debilitating injuries, speak to them.
“We emphasize all the time that every decision you make has a consequence,” Folsom said. “We try to bring people in to talk to [students] that they can relate to. They’re going to see that person and think, ‘Wow, that person is just like me. They did all these things and now they’re in a wheelchair and they can’t go back.’”
Beach told students how being in a wheelchair affected not just him, but his friendships as well.
“I never had problems making friends,” Beach said. “ ... I was super popular in high school. Everybody knew me and I never had problems making friends. But I got stuck in this chair and you would’ve thought it was contagious or something.”
Even though students have seen the effects and heard the stories, many still have the mindset of “It won’t happen to me,” Lindsey Howard, a senior and SADD president at Central Heights High School, said.
“I think it’s because it hasn’t happened [at Central Heights] very often, and they haven’t been impacted by it,” Howard said. “If they don’t start listening to the people who are trying to help them, then something will happen.”
Howard said she hopes it doesn’t take a terrible incident at the school to get students to listen. The stories from people who have been through it aren’t always enough, she said.
“If they knew something that had happened to someone, I think it’s going to affect them more,” Howard said. “I think it shocks them more than us just telling them about it. It gets their emotions going more than me just telling them not to text and drive.”
A NEW MESSAGE
Students today see more messages promoting sex, alcohol and tobacco use, Folsom said, leading them to think they need those things to be popular.
“They have an impressionable mind,” he said. “At some point, we have to try and give them a different message that talks about valuing themselves and other people. It’s not all about sex and alcohol.”With graduation around the corner, parties and celebrations will follow, and those are times when students are faced with making the right decisions, Folsom said.
“[Students] are at an age where they’re going to be making choices and they’ve got to understand,” he said. “I just want them to have all the information out there, that way they’re armed to make a good choice or not.”
The message from the assembly was to stop and think first, Folsom said — a message he hopes students take with them and practice often.
“It may be the difference between a life-changing outcome,” he said. “Just think first. Don’t drink and drive. Wear your seat belt. And make good decisions.”