We were on TV!

On October 2, 2013, we woke up extra early (3AM for some!) and traveled to Grand Rapids to visit the news-station of Wood TV 8.  We stood just outside the newsroom, loaded with Celebrate My Drive signs, a Drive to Survive banner, and students wearing this years D2S tee-shirts.  We had students from Portland and Saranac High Schools representing us, as well as a couple Ionia County Intermediate School District VISTAs, and the ICISD’s Deborah Wagner.  Our students were eager to wave those signs and smile  big for the camera each time they panned at us.  Not once did we complain about the slight chill or being on our feet for an hour and a half.  We were too excited for this!  Toward the end of Daybreak, news anchor Emily Linnert came out of interviewed Deb on live TV!

Thank you, Deborah!  You were amazing!  Thank you YAC students!  We couldn’t have done this without you!  And thank you Wood TV 8 for inviting us out and taking the time to come out and learn more about our programs!


3rd Annual Teen Driver Safety Conference: Oct. 18th 2013

We, Ionia County Youth Advisory Council, are hosting our 3rd Annual Teen Driver Safety Statewide Conference on October 18, 2013 in Holland, Michigan at the DoubleTree by Hilton.  This event is youth-led and will showcase our DRIVE TO SURVIVE (D2S) Initiative.  This initiative is sponsored by State Farm.

The 3rd Annual Teen Driver Safety Statewide Conference welcomes over 300 students from different communities in Michigan.  This year, to help implement, we are partnering with the Holland Police Department and students from Ottawa County schools.  The conference focuses on spreading awareness of the risks of distracted driving through presentations of personal stories, shocking statistics, simulations, and other impactful means.  Youth organize and present at this even to promote:

“If you want to text and talk, you should probably walk;
“Pull your seat belt snug, give it an extra tug;
“Stay alive, don’t drive and drive.”

Our goal is to have students leave a safer driver.

A number of activities have been planned: from four keynote speakers and eight breakout sessions to eleven simulations and twelve vending tables.  This is organized to provide information from key stakeholders in Michigan on the issue of distracted driving and teen driver safety.

Stay up to date on Drive To Survive via our FB page –>

Driving Tips for the Winter!

Winter weather is here, make sure that you and your teen are prepared for the weather conditions that you may encounter. 

Driving in
Snow and Ice
Sometimes, driving in the snow and ice may be unavoidable.  Have a discussion with your teen about what to do if they are caught in a snow or ice storm.

Tips to share with your teen driver:
Drive slow.
Drive in a low gear.
Stopping distances are longer in the snow and ice.
In general, if you have anti-lock brakes, apply firm, continuous pressure. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, pump the brakes gently.
If you find yourself in a skid, stay calm and ease your foot off the gas while carefully steering in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go. Stay off the pedals (gas and brake) until you are able to maintain control of your vehicle. This procedure, known as “steering into the skid,” will bring the back end of your car in line with the front.
Do not pass plow trucks.
Always turn on your headlights.
Always wear your seat belt.


UnderYOURInfluence NewsletterJanuary 2013

Ionia County YAC Receives Grant For Teen Driver Safety.


Money to help keep teens safe on the road and behind the wheel.

Learning how to drive is a big milestone in a teen’s life, yet being in the driver seat is one of the most dangerous places for a teen to be. Car crashes are the leading killer of teens in America today. The Ionia County Youth Advisory Council (YAC) Drive to Survive (D2S) teen driver safety initiative has received the YOUth in the Driver Seat Grant for $1,000 from Youth Service America (YSA) and State Farm Insurance.

This grant that YAC has received will help them implement a semester of service that encourages safe driving habits, community service and student achievement.  Advocating on their main three areas for teen driver safety and slogans:

“Pull your seatbelt snug, give it an extra tug.”
“If you want to text and talk, you should probably walk!”
“Stay alive. Don’t drink and drive.”

Along with creating awareness, YAC will propose their solution and tools to use to generate support for addressing teen driver safety with service-learning throughout the state with peers, parents, teachers and partners.

The YOUth in the Driver Seat Grant will help the YAC students continue to expand D2S by reaching more people to create good driving habits with the hope to save a life.


To learn more about YAC, their efforts and the D2S initiative check out the links to their Facebook Pages.

Detroit Pistons Recognize Ionia County YAC


Student efforts making a difference in the community.

Car crashes are the number one killer of teens in America. The Ionia County Youth Advisory Council (YAC) has been chosen by the Detroit Pistons as a Come Together Game Changers Grant Challenge recipient for their project, Drive to Survive (D2S).

Through this initiative YAC has gained national attention. The students have raised awareness for teen driver safety through presentations in schools, conferences, public service announcements, billboards and marketing materials. D2S would not be possible without the help and funding from State Farm Insurance.

Chosen as a recipient, YAC was invited to attend the Pistons vs. Pacers game and watch warm up courtside on Dec. 15. Not only were they given tickets to the game but Greg Monroe, Pistons Center, donated his personal section for the group of 65 people to sit in and gave them t-shirts.

YAC students will be receiving $1,000 to continue their efforts in making a difference in their communities through D2S. As well as, being recognized under the community section on the Detroit Pistons website as Game Changers www.nba.com/pistons/game-changers.

These motivated students are from local high schools in the area: Ionia, Belding, Saranac, Lakewood, Portland and Lowell. The main reason they continue to develop their project is they do not want anyone else they know to become another statistic. They have one focus guiding their efforts, to save a life.

2nd Annual Teen Driver Safety Statewide Conference

This year the Ionia County Youth Advisory Council held the 2nd Annual Teen Drivers Safety Statewide Conference. The Conference was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, MI on October 26th, 2012. 300 Students attended the conference from over 10 different schools across the state of Michigan! The Conference had 5 keynote speakers throughout the day including, Jim Santilli, Laurel Zimmerman, Tori Buda, Deb Wilks, and Bonnie Raffaele. Students were also able to hear 11 different speakers for breakout sessions during the conference including, Harry D Jacobs High School, Randy Rand, Deb Wilks, Deputy Sower, Terry Jungel, April Rodgers, Neil Brown, Rick Rogusky, Bonnie Raffaele, Deputy Guernsey, and Amy Crisp. All of our speakers come from organizations striving to improve teen driver safety, as well as many personally experiencing the aftermath of distracted driving accidents. As well as hearing the keynote speakers and having the chance to attend various breakout sessions, students were able to experience 5 simulators.  A HUGE thank you to State Farm Insurance for sponsoring our event! As well as our other sponsors that included, Ionia County Community Foundation, Ionia County Intermediate School District, Ford Driving Skills for Life, Portland Products, TL Masonry, Wiesen Incorporated, Born to Shop, and VanAndel & Flikkema Chrystler Jeep.

Please check out our video about this years conference on youtube!





Project Ignition Project Summary

The Ionia County YAC project goal is to raise awareness in our county (Ionia County) about teen driver safety and inform teens of the dangers of drinking & driving, not wearing a seatbelt, and talking/texting on a cell phone while driving.

The YAC has had 3 different messages that we wanted to delivery to our peers and partners.  The messages have been:

  1. “If you want to text and talk, you should probably walk!”
  2. “Stay alive!  Don’t drink and drive!”
  3. Pull your seatbelt snug, give it an extra tug.”

The YAC has used a variety of ways to delivery our messages.  The first delivery method was the creation of a public service announcement that has been used in all county high schools.  The second delivery method consisted of each of our five high schools (Belding, Ionia, Portland, Saranac and Lakewood) holding a teen driver safety mini-summit.  The teen driver mini-summit was used to raise awareness about teen driver safety and inform teens of the dangers of drinking & driving, not wearing a seatbelt, and talking/texting on a cell phone while driving.  Students gave out t-shirts and lanyards to peers.  They also designed a large banner that is traveling to each school for students to sign and pledge to “Drive to Survive”.  It was also a tool to create interest in each high school in doing their own teen driver safety project within the next couple of months.  We also created an Ionia County Facebook page that has collected local peer fans to share our messages.

YAC has been able to partner with the local community foundation to set up a mini-grant funding program for youth wanting to hold a teen driver safety event in their high school.  Local high school students will be able to apply through their school groups (student council, SADD, etc) for a mini-grant of $400 to implement their teen driver safety event.

YAC will hold a culminating event in April where all five high schools can share their teen driver safety events with others from across the state with hope of creating even greater awareness and activity around teen driver safety in Michigan.

The project has allowed us to create awareness beyond just our peers.  We had a high school teacher who shared the impact on his own personal use of the cell phone and texting as a result of our video and the teen driver safety mini-summit at his high school.  There was a health teacher who has decided to use our video and the YouTube video (texting & cell phones-Wales) in his unit on substance abuse.  All freshmen in that high school will participate in this class.  The partnership developed with the local community foundation has lead to them to add teen driver safety issues as a funding priority for the youth fund.

Project Ignition (PI) has also allowed us to take our passion and knowledge and apply it through service-learning to teen driver safety.  We have been able to create a project that meets the eight quality standards for service-learning in the following ways.

Our project linked to curriculum through Career-Related Learning and Civic Standards.  We problem solved, worked as a team, and communicated, used technology, designed and implemented strategies to analyze issues, explained different perspectives and resolved issues.

The local projects between teachers and students are building capacity for service-learning.  Two teachers are already planning to add a service-learning teen driver safety project to their health classes.  Ionia County ISD Service-Learning Coordinator is using this opportunity to provide instruction for teachers on how to create project lessons that are aligned with K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice.  YAC members will be teaming with experienced practitioners to lead some professional development in high quality service-learning.

We are from high needs, low-performing rural, urban fringe school districts with varying socioeconomics backgrounds & abilities.  We have brought a wide range of perspectives to this issue. The project has been inclusive, including gifted, at-risk, special education, regular education students the opportunity to apply their perspectives, abilities, talents in service-learning to the driver safety issue (diversity).

PI has led us to create a wide range of partnerships from law enforcement, hospital, emergency services, etc to the local community foundation, peers, health classes, drama, volunteers like DDM, etc.

The design has allowed for sustainability in our efforts increasing duration and intensity beyond the September to December timeline with the local teen driver safety events and a statewide culminating event in the spring.

The pre & post surveys were created by YAC.   The surveys were placed on Survey Monkey to collect the data from our peers.  YAC members also held focus groups in each high school as a means of collecting data from peers (progress monitoring).

We also provided opportunities to reflect.  We created a reflection activity for students following the viewing of the video.  A copy of the activity is included under samples.

We chose to address teen driver safety through Project Ignition (youth voice).  We were responsible for brainstorming, creating useful ideas, and making our project come to life.  We have all known somebody who has been impacted by a teen accident either through injury or death and this topic is important to us (meaningful service).

There was an enormous amount of passion that went into these projects and the dedication paid off!

Watch our video by navigating to the Video page!

Thank you.


My name is Julia Sewell, and I am a 21-year-old from Minneapolis. I am currently a Senior at Augsburg College in Minnesota, where I study psychology and theater. I’m involved in as many activities and programs as I can be. I am an actress, a model, a motivational speaker, and a published poet. I started my work in service when I was 10 years old. I began volunteering at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and with community organizations. My passion for service and to be apart of change continued to grow. I then attended the National Youth Leadership Training and became involved with the National Youth Leadership Council(NYLC). From here on out, I became apart of there entity and started presenting at various conference, the first of which was the Ryan White Conference for HIV/AIDS.

I was on the Youth Performance Companies youth artists board(2006-2007) and Vice President of Umoja Academy, an organization that a friend and I began. Through this organization, we target and provide programming for at risk youth in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On campus, I am currently the Director of Education for People of Pluralism, a promotional member of Soul Food, and a regular participant with Chicago Cares. I was also a member of State Farm’s Youth Advisory Board 2007-2008 where I helped to give out $5 million worth of monies to service-learning projects across the country. I was recently selected to serve on the America’s Promise Alliance Youth Partnership Team. I recently became a Bonner Scholar at my college. I also am a McNair Scholar. Through this program, I am currently doing research on definitions of success and how these differ among black and white young men.

Leadership has always been in my heart. At age 14, I was selected to be apart of the inaugural group in the Youth Leaders International Program. This program gathered the top leaders from all across the globe(Russia, Africa, Australia, etc) and brought them together to create strategies for leadership within the local and National context. I was apart of this program for 3 years and traveled to France and Great Britain on the programs behalf. I was also selected to attend the Inaugural Clinton Global Initiative in New Orleans, LA where Bill Clinton spoke and gave advice about global leadership and how we as youth can work to be apart of this initiative. As a result, I am now a campus representative for the organization. This year, I also started a group called C.H.A.N.G.E.(Cultivating Hope and Navigating Growth through Excellence). The main goal of this group is to continually identify problems within our community and effectively work to change and correct them. On of the recent initiatives that I led was partnering with a local homeless shelter and raising resources (clothes, hats, gloves, shoes) for the shelter.

Performing has always been in my blood. I began acting at age 5 and haven’t stopped since! I began to combine my love for the stage with my passion for change. I became involved in plays whose messages were educational and was apart of tours and educational films that were produces. I perform at conferences, events, programs, and ceremonies. I recently performed at the 2008 National Service Learning Conference. I am also working with the National Youth Leadership Council on strengthening youth initiatives and awareness on HIV/AIDS. I recently presented on youth voice and HIV/AIDS awareness at the Urban Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

To serve and help is my passion, and I try to serve in every way that I can.
The quote that I live my life by is by Marianne Williamson. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” This embodies what I believe because we can attain and achieve so much, if we just put our minds to it!


YAC Members Attend the National Youth Leadership Training

Summer is finally here, but that hasn’t stopped the Ionia County YAC from pursuing their responsibilities. Two select members from the YAC were chosen to attend the National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) 2009. The two YAC members Margaret Helmer and Meredith Cronin, will be attending a week long training in Mound, Minnesota from July 19th through July 25th, to enhance their leadership abilities. They will be expected to go through a 24 hour emersion process and numerous trainings that deal with morals and ethics, service-learning, cross culture captaincies, and the achievement gap. You can track their experience on our blog starting July 26th.