GREENFIELD — Jenna Bourquein has heard adults talk about the dangers of drunken driving, but those conversations never stuck with her the way they did Wednesday.
She’s a seventh-grader at Eastern Hancock Middle School. She’s never even driven a car. She’s young, innocent and rightfully naïve about the risks of drinking alcohol and getting behind the wheel of a car.
On Wednesday, as she watched pictures of a man’s blackened and burned body — the remains of a victim who lost his life in a drunken driving crash — flash on a projection screen, Jenna’s eyes grew wide.
She was one of more than 125 teens who participated in Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse’s semi-annual youth summit Wednesday at Adaggios Banquet Hall in Greenfield.
Seventh- to 12th-grade students from the county’s four school districts were selected by their principals to attend the event to learn about the dangers of abusing easily accessible substances, including alcohol, marijuana and tobacco.
The effort was organized by the organization’s youth council, a team of teen representative from the county’s four high schools that serves as NASA’s liaisons to local young people.
Wednesday’s program focused on the laws associated with those popular substances and the consequences teens face when they choose to abuse them.
The youth council invited an array of speakers, including a father who lost his son to a drunken driving accident, to the submit to talk with the teens about their personal experiences.
Larry Higgins’ son, Jamey, died in 2009 after his car collided head-on with a drunken driver headed the wrong direction on a highway in Tennessee. The Pendleton father now takes the twisted shell of his son’s car across the state to speak with groups about the dangers of driving under the influence.
Higgins’s presentation, which included photos of his son’s dead body, was perhaps the most impactful of the day, students said.
She had never considered it was possible to die in such a horrific way, Jenna said.
“It scared me,” Jenna said.
Students also heard from Hancock County Probation Officer Amy Ikerd about the dangers of smoking marijuana and Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Christine Rapp about state laws that encourage students to seek help for friends who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Youth council members say they were hoping the presentations would have a lasting effect on their peers. Hopefully, when they consider driving home after a night of partying, they’ll remember what they learned and saw Wednesday and call for a ride, members said.
Students in attendance were a mix of students at-risk of making poor decisions and student leaders who might one day join the youth council, said Keelie Baker, a New Palestine High School senior and two-year member of the NASA Youth Council.
Marty Mullins, a sophomore at New Palestine High School, said he planned to take what he learned Wednesday back to school to teach his peers who weren’t able to go.
“These are really important subjects to talk about,” Mullins said. “It’s been a great opportunity to learn.”