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Rising senior takes leadership role on safe driving

South Boston News
HCHS rising senior Aaliyah Paige (doing a split) was awarded the YOVASO’s Youth Leadership Award as a member of the organization’s statewide leadership committee. / July 18, 2019
Amid a spike in teen driver fatalities across Virginia, one Halifax County High School student is stepping up and fighting back.

Aaliyah Paige, a rising senior and member of the statewide leadership committee for Youth of Virginia Speak Out (YOVASO), earned YOVASO’s Youth Leadership Award for her efforts in a club ceremony held on June 19. The YOVASO club at HCHS earned the Speaking Out and Saving Lives Award.

“Aaliyah tends to step up and take responsibility, takes the lead,” said Casey Taylor, program development coordinator at YOVASO.

YOVASO, which started in the Salem and Roanoke area in 2001, has since spread across the state to encompass 106 member schools, both middle and high schools. It sets up club branches in each school and provides resources for the clubs to conduct education and awareness cam-paigns.

In the statewide organization, Taylor knows Aaliyah personally. Taylor directs a 13-member group called the Youth Advisory Council (YAC) that brings together teens from across the state to advise YOVASO on an organizational level. She works with the teens to brainstorm ways that YOVASO should tailor its plans.

“They really help us keep our program youth-led and fun,” she said.

Paige has a personal investment in YOVASO. She was a student at HCHS when classmates Casey Pulliam and Olivia Noblin died in a car crash, and she has seen family members die in crashes.

“I have lost a lot of family members and some classmates,” she said.

Paige joined YOVASO after Pulliam and Noblin’s deaths, when HCHS became a YOVASO member school and established its club.

“We did lose Casey and Olivia and that really hit our school really hard because they meant a lot to us and we had to do better,” Paige said.

She participated in YOVASO’s “Save Your Tailgate” campaign, its “Arrive Alive” campaign, and several smaller awareness campaigns targeted for holidays throughout the academic year. YOVASO measures campaign success in several ways, but the most important is a before- and after-seat belt check to see who is wearing their seatbelts when they pull into the HCHS parking lot.

“We improved on wearing seatbelts,” Paige said.

Taylor credited Paige with helping to create a culture of safe driving in Halifax. Already showing her leadership within her school club, Paige started to look toward the state level advisory council.

“I was part of the school-student board and the teachers were really busy so I was responsible for making sure we were on time and we had our seatbelt checks,” Paige said.

But, “Just being involved in the community was not enough.”

Paige eventually went on to be tapped by Taylor to join the youth advisory council, or YAC.

YAC, which Paige pronounces as ‘yak’, has three duties besides advising the organization. First, the council plans YOVASO’s yearly retreat at the campus of James Madison University, which fea-tures lectures and activities from a variety of partner organizations such as American Trucking Association, Virginia State Police, and insurance companies. Second, the members maintain and up-date blogs about safe driving.

“We do have a blog on our website and she did some writing for that,” Taylor said.

Finally, the students in the Youth Advisory Council undergo extensive leadership training that helps them both develop their voices and work on large projects. YAC meets monthly online and quarterly in person.

“Being a part of YAC has helped me grow as a person. It has made my voice stronger,” said Paige. She said that she now has the confidence to speak out on issues in her community as well as the knowledge of how to enact change.

Paige’s award came from her performance during the YOVASO retreat. YAC members were tasked with not only organizing the event, but also leading groups of around ten students during the retreat. Paige decided that the theme of her team would be “The Incredibles,” and even went as far as to dress up for her team in the style of the Pixar superheroes. Taylor said she had been impressed by Paige’s dedication.

“She is very passionate about making sure her peers are making good choices behind the wheel,” Taylor said. “She had things ready to go to engage with them.”

Paige has not let her new statewide status distract her from her position in the Halifax club. She is already thinking about club business.

“It’s my responsibility to find more sponsors to keep our club up,” Paige said.

She and her club, which reached 20 active members at one point, have gone further than just official awareness campaigns. The club takes photos and videos to post on social media. They even organized a cookout before the Noblin memorial softball game, which Paige said was especially moving because the other team had also lost a player in a car crash. Both deceased players wore the same number.

In 2018 the number of Virginia teens killed in automotive crashes jumped to 71. That was a 21 percent increase over the previous year, but overall there has been a 60 percent decrease in fatalities since YOVASO went statewide in 2005. Still, it is a grim reminder that many teens do die on the road.

In May, Stanley Noblin, father of Olivia Noblin, posted on social media, “Folks, it’s time to wake up and realize we have a serious problem in our county … Please don’t let my child have died for nothing. It’s time to step up.”

It is a call that Paige echoed.

“We need to remember that we aren’t invincible and it could be any of us,” she said.

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