At the gymnasium at Dominion High School on Jan. 11 for the rivalry game between Potomac Falls and Dominion, one thing was noticeably absent from the stands: school colors. Though the Panther players donned their traditional black and purple jerseys and the Titans wore white and black, the fans instead chose to wear a different color: bright neon green.
The students were wearing shirts to represent the Happiness Foundation, an organization started by John and Elisa McGuire of Olney, Md. The Happiness Foundation aims to encourage young people to not drink and drive or get in a car with someone who has been drinking.
The topic hits close to home for the McGuires, whose 18-year-old daughter Haeley was killed, along with two friends, after riding home with a drunk driver in 2011.
After hearing the tale, Jake Backers, Laura Gyamfi and Ariel Kesick decided to bring Happiness to Dominion.
“We wanted to bring awareness to drinking and driving, in not only Dominion but also Potomac Falls, so that as a community, we can stop the tragedies that happen from drinking and driving,” Kesick said.
The three seniors are all members of DECA, an international association of marketing students. Members of DECA compete at a state-wide level, and Backers, Gyamfi and Kesick decided to promote the Happiness Foundation for their public relations competition project.
The teens were introduced to the foundation through friend and fellow Titan Heather Green, cousin of Haeley. With a link to the community already in place, the group was certain they could further expand the message of the Happiness Foundation.
“We immediately picked up on the Happiness Foundation to use them and work with them, because it hits so close to home,” Gyamfi said. “We knew it would be really effective.”
Laboring nearly 20 hours per week, the three students were able to coordinate multiple events to expose the foundation to the community. Working with administrators, the group organized an assembly in front of the entire school to espouse the mission and give students an opportunity to pledge to never drink and drive. The group also organized a fundraiser at Velocity Five. DECA members also sold Dominion-specific Happiness Foundation T-shirts. Thus far, the group has raised nearly $3,000 for the foundation.
Backers, Gyamfi and Kesick didn’t originally plan on hosting an event at a basketball game, but wanted an opportunity to involve not only Dominion, but Potomac Falls, in their message.
“If something were to occur, it would just happen at Dominion or just Potomac Falls,” Gyamfi said. “It would affect the whole community.”
So, the three mobilized their DECA army once again and took advantage of the large turnout for the basketball game to distribute bright T-shirts, sell key chains and encourage students to sign a banner vowing not to drink and drive.
All 250 shirts were distributed and more than 500 students signed the banner.
Though the three seniors hope their efforts will help them earn an award at the Virginia State DECA competition in March, they are equally content that the message of Happiness has been spread just a little bit more.
“Happiness means to live life to the fullest,” Backers said. “It means that you don’t need to drink and drive to have a good time.”
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