http://ift.tt/2dSZqQp Dean Olsen Staff Writer @deanolsenSJR
A central Illinois program that educates young people about the dangers of drunken driving and ways of preventing injury has returned after a six-month hiatus caused by political bickering over the state budget.
“I’ve had a lot of positive feedback,” Nancy Kyrouac said after the Think First program was reinstated Sept. 1 and she was hired back as the program’s director.
Representatives of high schools and other venues have been eager to schedule speakers from the program, based at Springfield’s Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Kyrouac said.
“We’re booked up from the end of October to mid-December,” she said Thursday after SIU issued a news release announcing the program’s reinstatement.
Think First ended in late February when SIU no longer could afford to subsidize the program on its own without additional state funding. The state budget impasse that began in July 2015 and remains largely unresolved cut off Think First’s grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation.
The flow of state money eventually started back up after the Democratic–controlled General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner managed to agree on a stopgap spending plan at the end of June.
The stopgap plan didn’t fully fund many parts of state government, but it did fully fund IDOT, department spokesman Guy Tridgell said.
The Think First program’s $304,649 grant coincides with the federal fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, but knowing that the IDOT money would be available once again, SIU officials decided to recall Kyrouac last month, SIU spokeswoman Karen Carlson said.
In addition to Kyrouac, who had been unemployed before she was called back on a renewed contract, the program’s other full-time employee, Danny Hicks, is back with the program.
Hicks was paralyzed from the chest down in 1991 when the then-18-year-old was a passenger in car that veered off a road near Lake Springfield and struck a tree.
All three people in the car had been drinking, Hicks said, and no one was wearing a seat belt. The driver was unharmed, but the other passenger was killed, Hicks said.
Hicks, whose spinal cord was crushed in the crash, talks to young people about risk-taking behavior as part of his Think First talks. He was able to get another job after the Think First program shut down but transferred back on Oct. 1, Kyrouac said.
In addition to Hicks, Think First pays a variety of other speakers who appear at events throughout central Illinois at no cost to schools.
The program is part of SIU’s Department of Family and Community Medicine.
“Think First’s messages of safe driving and injury prevention provide a valuable community service to teenagers, parents and the public,” department chairwoman Dr. Janet Albers said.
In state fiscal year 2015, Think First presented 180 programs to more than 6,000 central Illinois teens. The program also provides crash simulations and education on bicycle safety and car seat safety.