With a background in community youth organizations, Durant’s Melissa Hill came up with a strategic plan as a host of teens continue the grieving process after losing four classmates in a recent tragic accident.
The end result was the start of a local chapter of the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) organization. The group had its first organizational meeting on June 27 with between 50 and 60 students in attendance.
Also at the meeting were family members of three of the four youths - Durant High School students Kaleb Foster, Fernando Flores, Hunter Ford and Jack Sarver - who perished in the Memorial Day weekend accident when they were hit by a drunk driver.
"My daughter was a close friend with some of the boys that passed away and I spent several days trying to figure out what possible good could come from this awful, awful situation," Hill commented.
"I served on the board of directors for Junior Achievement and lot of student-led groups before I moved back to Durant from North Dakota. Durant has a gaping hole in this area, and I thought this was something that could be beneficial for them to put their energy into.
"SADD has expanded to a lot more platforms than just drunk driving. They want to help protect youth from bad things that happen and make sure kids have the knowledge to do better."
According to the national SADD website, its initiatives include youth development, traffic safety (including seat belt, drowsy driving, impaired driving and distracted driving), substance abuse (alcohol, drugs and tobacco) and personal health and safety (physical and emotional depression and anxiety, self-harm and emotional abuse and violence prevention).
The national organization offers community memberships as well as student organizations.
Currently, Durant has established a virtual chapter as a community organization, but Hill would like it to become a school-sponsored organization as it continues adding more students in grades 9-12.
"There’s a whole lot of kids that have been affected by the accident," she said. "For the first event (meeting), it was really good. We had a slew of kids that couldn’t attend because of other conflicts, so we’ll leave the membership open for a while. We’ve had another 10 sign up since the meeting and we’ll probably have another meeting in August.
"We want the families of the boys killed to be a part of anything we put together that they would like to attend."
Through an initial post on social media, the new organization has taken off in dramatic fashion with multiple businesses throughout the community offering donations to get the ball rolling.
Its lone cost thus far has been organization t-shirts, but Hill hopes it can utilize those funds to put together safe events for teenagers to attend together in the Durant area.
"It’s just amazing what this community has already done," she added. "We’ve raised over $7,000 basically with one Facebook post.
"This is going to be a student-led organization and there is a national conference that these kids can go to. That is a cool opportunity for them to step into leadership levels and a National Advisory Council that kids can serve on," she said.
"We have a year to work toward that and for the kids to learn how the organization works. It’s 100 percent though that we are going to the national conference next year representing Durant, as long as it happens.
"We have students performing most of the key roles already. They are going around town picking up checks and using Snapchat or Instagram or whatever they are into social media-wise to get their peers signed up," Hill said.
"My hope is that we can draw even more kids in that aren’t involved in a bunch of extracurricular activities also. We need to give them a place they can plug in as well. By this time next year, I hope to be just observing and allowing them to use their skills in this organization."