When we started our Creative Safety Supply scholarship competition, we had no idea of the impact we’d be making on so many students, nor the impact their stories would have on us. We’ve helped a working mom of a special needs child return to school to become an art teacher. We’ve given to a med student to help her mission of caring for patients with HIV overseas.

This fall, we were humbled by the amount of scholarship submissions we received. All in all, we were sent 1,200 applications. All of these submissions were from students who are inspired to make the world a better place. The job of whittling that staggering pile down to one finalist was not easy, but we’re happy to announce that, after careful consideration, the winner of Creative Safety Supply’s 2018 Fall Scholarship is Riley Chenery of Gainesville, Florida!

Riley’s career aspirations were borne from tragedy. In 2016, Riley was in terrible car wreck. She broke twenty bones, sustain substantial head trauma, and was in danger of losing one of her feet. Miraculously, and with a lot of help from medical professionals, Riley was able to fully recover. That event inspired her to want to help others, and that is why she’s enrolled in college: to become a physical therapist.

We’re happy to share Riley’s essay here:

Part I: My Career Path

On May 2, 2016, at the age of sixteen, I almost lost my life in a car accident as I drove to school that morning. I sustained more than twenty broken bones, a massive head injury, a punctured lung and was in danger of losing my left foot. I spent many weeks in the hospital and was discharged in a wheelchair without the use of either of my legs. The doctors predicted it would take me eighteen months to two years to be able to walk again. I am proud to say I took my first steps on day one hundred.

Throughout the months following my accident I attended physical therapy several times a week. My physical therapist was an integral part of my rehabilitation; not only did she assist me in building up my strength and balance, she encouraged me throughout the whole process. To this day, almost two years after my accident, I continue to attend physical therapy. Physical therapy is difficult and it is common to become discouraged; however, my therapist gave me hope and enabled me to believe in myself.

It was during this time that I knew I wanted to become a physical therapist to help others who have been through difficult situations similar to mine. My career goal is to become a physical therapist and my life experiences shaped this goal and my ability to achieve it. To become a physical therapist, I want to continue my education through a doctorate degree in applied physiology and kinesiology. I am excited to complete my education and move on to help others like me.

Part II: Creative Problem Solving

In the early days after my accident my family and friends were asked if I was texting and driving. To those who know me best this was a little humorous at first because I am a big “rule follower” and would never do something so dangerous.  The state trooper confirmed to my parents that I was not texting and no one was ever able to determine why my car collided with the large oak tree. I think many local parents wanted to believe I had been doing something wrong such as texting while driving so they had something to blame; they did not want to think this could happen to their child. I felt as if we were being judged while I was going through the most difficult experience of my young life.  I decided that rather than focus on the negative or let it upset me, I would spread an important message: Seatbelts save lives.

Quickly we were able to turn the negative questions and assumptions of teens and their parents into an educational campaign to encourage others to wear seatbelts.  Although I was badly injured, I survived, and it was clear that the seatbelt saved my life. I attend high school in a small town with a high school enrollment of under six hundred students.  The town had fundraisers in my honor and I was made the Honorary Grand Marshal of the Watermelon Festival Parade (this is actually a big deal in my community).  My family and I used these opportunities to spread the message about seatbelt use, especially to the teen population as new drivers do not always wear their seatbelts but are the ones who account for more of the accidents.  We made signs for my parade float, verbally spread the message, put it out on social media with our own hashtag, and even made a large wooden sign which we hung on the oak tree that I collided with that morning.

The sign still hangs there, almost two years later, and everyone in the town passes it on their daily route. At least once a week someone meets me or hears my name and realizes I am the one who was in the accident and they tell me they see my seatbelt sign every day.  It is nice to know that my message is still being shared and mothers have told me they know their teens wear their seatbelts now because of my experience and the message I share. This experience helps me to see that something positive came out of my struggles.

As the winner of Creative Safety Supply’s 2018 Fall Scholarship, Riley will receive $1,000 toward her continuing education. We couldn’t possibly be happier to assist her efforts to improve the world.

We’d like to offer our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who applied for this scholarship, and we invite everyone who did not win to apply for our future scholarships. We host two scholarship contests each year, and the deadline for our next scholarship award ends on December 15, 2018. If you or someone you know is attending an institute of higher learning, have a look at our scholarship page which includes all of the information necessary to apply.

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