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HERO Campaign turns to youth to spread sober-driving message

MAYS LANDING — Sometimes a message resonates more with young people when it comes from their friends. That is the hope of the HERO Campaign’s new student initiative, the HERO Video Network.

“We’re so excited about this one,” said Christine D’Alessandro, media coordinator for the HERO Campaign. “This is an exciting turn where we’re focusing our interest back in the schools and with the high school students.”

The John R. Elliott HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers, in its 17th year, has been imparting its message at bars, taverns, community events and even NFL stadiums for as long as some of these students have been alive.

The campaign asks high school students across the state to develop ideas, create and then submit public-service announcement videos that promote being a designated driver. The videos will be uploaded to social media and the HERO Campaign student website.

“We started yesterday with the brainstorming, and they’re pretty creative. They’re also a little more serious than I thought,” said Ocean City High School TV Media teacher Greg Wheeldon.

About 30 students from the school’s television production classes will create videos to be submitted to the HERO Campaign.

“I think it’s important your peers are telling you,” said Brandyn Pokrass, 16, of Ocean City. “Once you hear it from your friend, it’s a different perspective. It allows some people to listen better.”

Ocean City student Christian Pailleret, 16, of Marmora, said some teens think they are invincible and a directive from their parents can be taken as a challenge.

D’Alessandro said she and HERO Campaign co-founder Bill Elliott have been visiting high schools around the region and talking to students about the videos and the mission of the campaign.

“They are full of ideas. And I say to the students, ‘No one knows better than you do how a message is going to resonate with a young person,’” she said. “So involving them in the creative part of sharing this message is really really powerful.”

The HERO Campaign was started by Elliott and his wife, Muriel, after their son, Navy Ensign John R. Elliott, was killed by a drunken driver in July 2000. The younger Elliott was on his way home to celebrate his mother’s birthday when he was struck by a driver who had already been pulled over once for driving while intoxicated that same night.

“This is a tragic plague on our roads, and more importantly, it just seemed to us that this was a problem that could be solved,” Elliott said.

The HERO Campaign believes it’s important to educate young people about the issue, because they are still learning right from wrong.

“The most important education is peer-to-peer, it is friends talking to friends about the right way to do things,” Elliott said.

Oakcrest High School students Cameron Garcia, 18, and Spence Monholler, 17, both of Mays Landing, are working on a video about being guided by your conscience. Garcia said the message of the HERO Campaign is needed in Atlantic County.

“I felt like it related a lot to the teens in our area and what was needed,” he said. “It’s definitely a huge problem.”

Monholler said creating a video for his peers makes it more personal.

“It’s someone you know that cares about you,” he said.

Oakcrest media teacher Jason Thomas said the students began working on their project at the beginning of the school year.

“It’s an awesome project because it shows off the students’ skills,” Thomas said. “It’s great for me to see the students take the initiative and make a connection to the community.”

Oakcrest student Alana Conti, 16, of Mays Landing, directed and filmed a superhero-inspired video in the high school auditorium. The video is set at a Halloween costume contest instead of party because, Conti said, that would be too cliche.

“It definitely can’t be boring because the attention span is very bad of kids my age,” Conti said. “So having something relatable will be more interesting.”

The concept was to show that not all superheroes wear capes.

“It could be anyone who drives. You don’t have to have powers or anything,” she said.

 

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