An Elgin piano teacher, drawing from personal experience, has made it her mission to spread the message that impaired and distracted driving are serious problems.
Virginia Smith launched the project "Safe Roads are Totally Cool!" that consists of having children draw and fill in blanks in the sentence "Please don't ___ and drive because I want safe roads for ___ ."
So far, Smith, 42, has enlisted 16 businesses in downtown Elgin to display the drawings in their windows.
Besides staples like "don't text and drive" or "don't drink and drive," kids have been coming up with creative sayings such as, "Don't do your makeup and drive" and "Don't eat cupcakes and drive," Smith said.
Smith said her outlook changed when she was convicted of DUI almost a decade ago.
"No one was hurt," she said. "It was a short phase of my life. I would have too much to drink, and I would drive home a few blocks from the neighborhood bar, thinking it was no big deal, thinking that was what everyone did."
Attending court-mandated victim impact panels profoundly affected her, Smith said. "It started to make me aware of how much of a problem (drinking and driving) is."
Smith now believes there are no positives to consuming alcohol. "I don't think alcohol is truly a benefit to any human being. That's kind of an extreme point of view, but that's what I think," she said.
The project "Safe Roads are Totally Cool!" first started last winter, when Smith participated in the annual Downtown Elgin Window Wonderland business window decoration contest. Her business, Totally Cool Piano Studio, formerly Kerygma Piano, doesn't have a street window, so she set up camp in the window of Neighborhood Housing Services.
"That idea just came to mind," she said. "I had kids from the Learning Tree (child care center) and the Boys and Girls Club (of Elgin) fill them out, and I put them in the window."
This summer, Smith took up the project in earnest, and hopes it will be a long-term thing.
Al's Cafe & Creamery, one of the participating businesses, will give a $25 gift certificate to the best drawing there by the end of September, Smith said. "I hope more (businesses) will come up with a prize or maybe a special deal for parents," she said. "I put a lot of work into this and I hope it will continue."
Smith supplies businesses with entries and crayons. Entries also can be downloaded at saferoadstotallycool.wordpress.com, where Smith posts pictures of all the drawings. The project's Facebook page is facebook.com/saferoadstotallycool.
Businesses who want to participate can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (847) 802-2198.