Elm Creek United Methodist Women assist driver’s education students

3/3/2015

Before Meredith Keep retired, she would see the diagonal bruises across the chests of accident victims in the recovery room at CHI Heath Good Samaritan in Kearney, Nebraska, and knew that they were alive thanks to a seatbelt. “One of the nurses would lean in and whisper ‘thanks for wearing your seatbelt,’” said Keep.
 
It was these recovery room images, coupled with a United Methodist Women (UMW) lesson from Rhonda Knapp, which sparked the idea in 2008 for a driver’s education tuition assistance program in Elm Creek, Nebraska.
 
“Driver’s education used to be free,” said Keep, but then schools began to cut non-essential program. “Elm Creek cut driver’s education, but not band or art,” added Keep.
 
Keep and the UMW held a bake sale coinciding with the Elm Creek December Craft Fair and letters were also sent to local businesses. The UMW raised enough money in the first year to provide $125 each to 11 students. In 2011, the UMW added a potato bar and ice cream sundae fundraiser. The fund provided nine $259 scholarships in 2014, which left the fund with just $3.77 remaining. The December bake sale has already raised more than $800 for this year.
 

A student practices on a driving simulator

To qualify for assistance, students must attend school in Elm Creek. The money is not split by need, rather the money is split evenly between students who apply and complete the course.  Keep says the reason for this is they don’t want to look at a parent’s tax returns because “that’s not our business when it’s someone you know.”
 
The fee to take driver’s education has risen to $315 dollars for 2015, the first increase in nine years. The tuition assistance program will see a change this year as well. Students will receive assistance beyond the $100 deposit for as much as $215 split evenly.
 
In the six years of the driver’s education program, Keep said no one has refused the money and many people have said thanks. “Some parents are afraid to drive with their kids,” said Keep, “but the kids just need to practice, practice, practice.”
 
Keep believes the fund is just as beneficial to parents and grandparents as it is to the students that go though the program. According to the Nebraska Safety Center, Elm Creek is the only driver’s education program in the state to have community assistance. Keep said that some other communities are thinking of launching a project similar to the Elm Creek program, but none have taken action yet.
  
The Ron and Carol Cope Nebraska Center for 
Safety Education and Research 

Students learn basic driving skills and the rules of the road in driver’s education. They complete classroom time and also get real world experience at The Ron and Carol Cope Nebraska Center for Safety Education and Research, one of only three full sized driving ranges in the Midwest, but that alone doesn’t make them expert drivers.

Keep told of a rollover accident near Elm Creek involving recent driver’s education graduates. “The fire chief goes to our church here and he got all choked up when he said they were all wearing their seatbelts,” Keep said, “The kids were shaken up, but otherwise ok.”
 
Every year Keep sends out a postcard for students to send back asking if they would recommend the course to friends, siblings and cousins. The postcard also asks for two or three bits of important information students learned.
 
While not everyone sends back the postcard those who do most commonly respond with defensive driving, turning into the lane closest to you when making a turn and not using a cell phone while driving as the most important information they learned in driver’s education. Without the driver’s education fund many Elm Creek students wouldn’t have the opportunity to take the course.


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