James Graham with nominator Holly Hullena. PHOTO/SUE TEODORO
A family tragedy motivated a Chanel College student to get involved in educating students about safe driving. Now he has won an award for his efforts.
Attracted to his first Students Against Dangerous Driving [SADD] meeting by a the promise of pizza, the message of the programme immediately resonated with James Graham because of a tragic accident.
He soon became both a passionate advocate for the cause and the driving force behind a resurgence of interest in the issue among young people across Wairarapa.
Graham has been recognised for his achievements with a Youth Award from Masterton District Council [MDC], nominated by Holly Hullena of the Wairarapa Road Safety Council.
When Graham’s father was a teenager, he was the victim of a drunk-driver in an incident that left him with a lifelong condition.
“When my dad was my age, he got caught in a fatal car accident with a car up the road from where he lived.
“He was hit. The other driver was drunk and on drugs and going over the speed limit, when he hit Dad.
“Everyone in the other car died and dad survived, but he had a fractured skull and lacerated brain and has lived with epilepsy ever since.
“I can see the importance of road safety. I realised that SADD was somewhere I wanted to make a difference so that no one else would have to live like my father has lived.”
Hullena said Graham was passionate about the cause.
“I try to use the SADD programme as a tool to uplift young people and give them experience, not just in road safety but transferable skills moving on from college,” she said.
Hullena nominated Graham to recognise the immense work he had put in, including helping to revive the dwindling SADD programme at Chanel College, which had effectively collapsed.
“We didn’t know the group existed,” Graham said.
“Nothing much had been done in the school.”
Graham pushed hard for campaigns in the school to raise the group’s profile and soon there were about 20 committed members, including the future leaders operating the programme today.
There are now more than 150 students signed up for SADD in Wairarapa colleges this year.
Hullena said, after Graham’s example, the programme was also now a recognised path to leadership, with students involved in governance training and broader public health and safety campaigns.
A first-year engineering student at Canterbury University, Graham said the award had come as a shock.
“To be honest, I don’t think I’ve done enough. I still feel like there’s so much more I could have done,” he said.
“I’m just happy I’ve been able to make a difference.”
Hullena said he had created a legacy both at his school and across the region.
“This year we have 21 students across Wairarapa attending SADD conference this year.
“They are students from every single college. He’s highlighted the programme. It’s also been recognised in the colleges as a natural leadership role.
“Even in the school holidays, James was putting up a big SADD mural outside Chanel College,” she said.
She was very happy Graham had been recognised.
“I was really rapt. It was well deserved, and it was good to see people being recognised for helping the community. I think young people need the encouragement early on. It also highlights good things happening in Wairarapa.”
Graham was very grateful to Hullena.
“Without her I wouldn’t have got the award, because she got me into the programme,” he said.
In addition to being a SADD member and leader for two years, Graham’s geography project based on local roading issues achieved national prominence.
He made submissions to MDC on a speed review and contributed to the ‘What about you’ alcohol campaign facilitated by Tu Ora Compass Health.
He also participated in the Road Safety Week campaign and in radio advertising, wrote editorials for ‘Safer September’ and youth week, and presented to the Wairarapa Road Safety Council annual general meeting.