Youth Force students return with a mission

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BURRILLVILLE – In their baby blue shirts, they walk the halls of Burrillville Middle School, and quietly, they’re on a mission.

Five young women from Burrillville schools attended the Youth Force educational summit over the summer, a three and a half day retreat focused on traffic safety through methods including substance abuse prevention.

And they came back with a plan.

Mackenzie Raimond, a SADD national leader who graduated from Burrillville High School last year, attended as the girls’ teen youth leader. High school junior Samantha Mansols also helped to lead the younger girls.

“It’s a leadership program that aims to give them the skills necessary to organize events and activities to support traffic safety efforts,” said Monica Blanchette, the district’s substance abuse prevention coordinator. “Our girls selected campaigns targeting distracted driving, impaired driving and speeding.”

The girls presented their three-part strategy to increase road safety in town in a video last week before the Burrillville Prevention and Action Coalition.

The 8th graders participated in the summit – an annual event that kicks off the year-long Youth Force program – as part of the middle school’s SADD program, Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Students from across Rhode Island attended the event from August 6-9 at Roger Williams University in Bristol, looking at traffic safety issues and how they relate to substance abuse and decision-making skills.  The summit was co-sponsored by the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.

The group from Burrillville devised a three-point plan for how to address traffic safety in town, which starts by working with the “text less, live more,” campaign. The students also hope to put on an event at high school with a mock car crash to address the topic of impaired driving, and get signs put up on local roadways that have seen fatalities.

Blanchette noted that with low participation in the SADD program at the high school level, she’s hopeful the group speaks to a bright future for the organization. Wearing their Youth Force blue t-shirts from the summit and sharing an obvious bond from the summer experience, the girls serve as a walking advertisement for a healthy lifestyle.

“That was the hope to get these young 8th graders who really showed a lot of passion through the next stage,” said Blanchette.

Raimond kept the program going at the high school last year, and her mother, Kristen Raimond, told the girls her daughter appreciates their commitment.

“Mackenzie is really proud of the guys,” Raimond said. “Now that she’s gone, she’s really glad that there’s other girls that are going to continue what she was doing.”

“It was basically me and Mackenzie and i’m trying my best to recruit people,” said Mansols.

At the summit, speakers included a family that lost someone in a drunk driving accident.

As part of the program, the girls also attended a statewide event where Burrillville police received traffic safety awards.

Police Col. Stephen Lynch noted that the girls had indicated they hope to work more closely with his department.

“On behalf on the police department, we welcome that,” said Lynch. “I thought you did a great job.”

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