The week after four New Hope teenagers were hospitalized following a car accident on Highway 82, New Hope High School junior Alex Melton started planning ways to help them.
She was far from the only one.
New Hope students, parents and even some local businesses have chipped in to raise thousands of dollars to ease the medical expense burden for the wreck victims and their families.
NHHS graduate Tyler Coleman was driving back home from Starkville on Oct. 8 when he lost control of the vehicle. It left the roadway and flipped, injuring Coleman and his three passengers, juniors Kyle Cruthirds and Darius Hendricks and sophomore Maddie Burns.
Coleman has returned home and is expected to fully recover. The other three teens were initially taken to North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo before being transferred to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Cruthirds remains in intensive care, both recovering from his injuries and fighting pneumonia.
Hendricks has been attending physical therapy. Burns, who was flown from NMMC to UMMC and was on life support following surgery, is now sitting up and talking.
Melton describes all four teens as her “best friends,” so she wanted to do something to help them and their families.
“We were all sitting in third block … and we wanted a way to help raise money,” Melton said. “So I texted my mom and said, ‘Should we do shirts?’ (At first, she said) keychains, but then she was like, ‘No, let’s do bracelets.'”
Melton had her friends and grandparents raise money to buy 600 rubber awareness bracelets, all emblazoned with the four injured teens’ names or initials, Melton’s grandmother Mott Ellis said.
“When you see your granddaughter wanting to reach out and help somebody and you see the heart she’s got, we wanted to help her in any way we could, and these families, too,” Ellis said.
Melton and the junior class began assigning students to sell the bracelets around the community for $2 each.
“We assigned certain people to go to the elementary and middle school, and we reached out to other schools in Lowndes County, like Caledonia,” junior Kenzie Hollis said. “And they sold some over there. But there are also students over there that have made their own bracelets.”
The sales didn’t just stop with Lowndes County schools, she added. The students reached out to Heritage Academy and Columbus Christian Academy as well. With the sales at New Hope and other schools, Ellis expects to give the families of each of the teens about $300 and their own bracelets.
That’s not even all the money they’ll receive. Lost Pizza Company has promised to donate a percentage of proceeds from today’s sales from 2:30 p.m. to closing for the families.
“I have a few employees who actually go to New Hope High School, and they were absolutely devastated,” Assistant Manager Courtney Wyley said.
She doesn’t know how much money will go to the families; It depends on the proceeds from tonight’s sales.
Other businesses, like Breaking Bread in New Hope, are selling bumper stickers that say “#pray4TDMK.” The bumper stickers are the brainchild of NHHS student Alayna Friesen and designed by New Hope parent Christy Vogel.
“Sometimes praying’s not enough,” Vogel said. “You feel like you have to do something.”
The families are having to stay in Jackson with their teenagers, she said, which means they’re eating out every meal and having to stay in hotels.
Every little amount of money helps with those costs, she said.
Moreover, Vogel said, the bumper stickers raise awareness about the four teens’ situation because people see the bumper stickers when they’re out driving.
So far, she has raised about $130, she said, and she’s still selling.
New Hope resident Chelsea Prescott has been making placards and selling them for $10, with all the proceeds going to the teenagers’ families.
The placards are made of wooden pallet boards and inscribed with a bright turquoise cross and the word “believe.”
“We started making them maybe a week, a week and a half ago,” Prescott said. “By the third day, all the orders started coming in.”
In total, she’s sold all 127 that she made. She split the money evenly between the four families and delivered it to Jackson on Saturday.
Additionally, NHHS Principal Matt Smith said local churches have donated money, and he said he is sure other people are raising funds he isn’t aware of.
“Our students are just amazing,” he said. “Without being asked or anything, they gave lots of money. We divided it four ways and gave it to the families.”
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