Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

‘Grim reaper’ aims to save teenagers’ lives

By Hilary Anderson

Jamie Kuzniar, a counselor at Guerin College Preparatory High School in River Grove, knew the statistics. On an average weekend, 138 people across the nation are killed in alcohol- or drug-related car crashes. She did not want one of Guerin’s students to be part of those statistics on any weekend. But homecoming, prom and graduation weekends were particular times of temptation.

Kuzniar spent about 100 hours researching possible programs that would make an impact on students and discourage them from making destructive decisions.

What originally was meant to be a oneday program, evolved into a week-long alcohol and drug awareness program in May that made an impact on Guerin students and staff and the River Grove community at large. The one that caught the most attention, Kuzniar said, was the “Grim Reaper.”

She and Guerin staff members selected 138 students. They gathered the group in the auditorium, told them about the program and asked they not reveal information about the “Grim Reaper” to their peers. They did not.

The day of the “Grim Reaper” arrived. Every half-hour the bell would ring. Some of the “chosen” 138 students would go down to the school office and don a black T-shirt that in white letters said simply, “Every 15 minutes” meaning every 15 minutes someone is killed in a drunk-driving accident.

“After putting on the black T-shirt, the student put on a tag with their name on it,” said Kuzniar. “They then got a white cross with a picture of themselves and placed it on the front of their locker. They could not talk or interact with anyone.”

At 2 p.m. the rest of the students went to the auditorium for what they thought was an assembly. Instead, the students were told to go outside to the parking lot. What they saw were 138 bodies lying under white sheets. There were emergency vehicles all around with yellow “crime scene” tape bordering the area where the “bodies” lay.

“There were 700 students out in the parking lot and no one made a sound,” said Kuzniar. “It was so eerie. The faculty said nothing to the students. There was no guidance from any of the adults present. It so disoriented them but this is reality and something they likely will never forget.”

The “Grim Reaper” made an impression on the 138 “bodies,” too.

“I think it was a good influence on all of us,” said sophomore Jason Maiehofer. “Everyone in class was very somber because it was like they were losing someone. I now will think twice about what I’m going to do if I’m with friends who may want to drive drunk.”

Freshman Rebecca Vargas also was one of the 138 “bodies.” “It was hard for me not to be able to talk with my friends,” she said. “It was really sad to know that all those people really do die because someone did something stupid. I can’t imagine causing my relatives and friends to cry because I made one stupid choice and now my life is gone.”

Other programs during Guerin’s drug and alcohol awareness week included speakers from Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM) and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), including ones who had driven drunk and injured or killed others.