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BPA uses grant for safe driving, community projects

The Morris Area Business Professionals of America are using grant money to bring a crashed car to the Stevens County Fair. (Submitted Photo)

MORRIS – Last fall, after a 10-day effort led by the Morris Area Business Professionals of America to rally community support for safe driving, Morris Area High School was awarded a $100,000 grant through State Farm’s Celebrate My Drive program.

When the grant arrived in December, BPA Advisor Jenny Maras, school administrators, and Paul LeTendre of State Farm decided to slow down and think carefully about how to best use the funds to improve the school and community.

“We spent about a year preparing for Celebrate My Drive – for us to rush in and spend it would have been foolish,” said Maras.

Brainstorming for ways to use the grant started with the BPA Officer Team who led the Celebrate My Drive campaign. Their ideas drove the donations and plans for how to promote safe driving. One of the grant requirements is to spend at least 10 percent on safe driving programming.

Community members will see one example of safe driving education next weekend at the Stevens County Fair. BPA worked with Minnesotans for Safe Driving, a nonprofit organization that assists crash victims and works to educate about the impacts of drunk and distracted driving, to bring a crashed car as part of an educational display.

The crashed car, which was part of a fatal accident, will be brought in on a trailer and placed inside the Lee Community Center. Signs around the car will let visitors learn about the type of accident the car was involved in and other impacts of dangerous driving, said Maras.

Other safe driving initiatives – which account for about $15,000 of the grant so far – include new driver’s ed training materials, a safe driving booth at the Minnesota State BPA Conference, and travel expenses for a student to attend the National Organization for Youth Safety conference.

The students have also donated about $20,000 to student and community groups to help augment community improvement projects. Beneficiaries include the high school theater organizers, Morris Area music programs, Morris Area Arts Boosters, Morris Area Sports Boosters, the Morris “M” Club, city of Morris parks, the Stevens County Fair, and Morris’s Special Olympics team, the Morris Community Prairie Stars.

Many of the potential projects these groups have discussed – a better sound system for the theater or video equipment for the elementary school gym – will make improvements that benefit students and the community, said Maras.

Plans for how to use the rest of the grant money are still being developed. But the students have already invested in some long-term projects including an annual scholarship that will focus on safe driving. The scholarship won’t be available for another three years, after the last member of the current officer team graduates, because the students will serve as the selection committee for the scholarship.

They would also like to invest in a BPA Food Wagon they can use at fundraisers, hold safe driving rallies and work on community and school aesthetic improvements.

But the biggest, unquantifiable impact of the grant may be the ongoing awareness of safe driving that is being fostered in the community.

“The rallying that took place sparked something with those kids,” said Maras. “Our community is safe now but our community will only continue to be safer because of all of that.”