Teen alcohol use kills about 6,000 people a year, more than all illegal drugs combined, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
In Northern Virginia alone, there were 14 victims in 2011, said Noreen Dinndorf, senior victim advocate for the Northern Virginia affiliate of MADD.
To combat that trend, MADD and State Farm Insurance have begun the National Teen Influencer Summit, which starting next month will focus on how to best influence and educate teens.
Ten teens from across the country have been chosen to take a stand against underage drinking. The group will provide their insights and attempt to create a national underage drinking prevention initiative.
Melissa Stegner, 17, recently was chosen as one of those teens.
“I think it is a really exciting opportunity for me,” Stegner said. “I will be able to build more skills on how I can be a better leader in educating teens on the dangers of drinking.”
Christmas 2007 was a joyous event for then-12-year-old and her family. She laughed and opened presents.
But a few days later, tragedy struck. Her father asked whether she wanted to ride along when he and her 13-year-old brother were going to take her grandmother home. She didn’t go. On the return trip, her father and brother were killed by a drunken driver.
Today, Stegner is a junior at Centreville High School.
“It still affects my life every single day,” she said. “It is still a very hard struggle for me. My brother should be graduating this year, and he is not here. He should be going to prom, and he won’t be. I think that will affect me for the rest of my life, and I hope no one else has to go through that.”
For the past three years, Stegner has tried to make sure it does not. She has volunteered for MADD, told her story and spoke out against the dangers of drinking and driving.
“She started doing a few speaking events when she was only 14, and I was very impressed,” Dinndorf said. “After a loss like she suffered, even for an adult, it is very difficult. But she had composure and was very effective.”
Last fall at Centreville, Stegner started a chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions.
“I think underage drinking is a serious problem,” Stegner said. “Especially when prom season comes around.”
Principal Mike Campbell said: “Melissa turned a personal tragedy into a cause for the greater good. . . . She has worked tirelessly to highlight the dangers of drinking and driving to the Centreville High community.”
Stegner said she plans to continue educating against those dangers. “I don’t want this to happen to another person. I want to save people from having to go through this.”