In 2007, Julie Garner heard the news no parent wants to hear: Her 16-year-old son Hunter had been killed, along with his best friend in a car crash. Hunter’s friend was driving the vehicle.
“Our lives stopped,” says Garner, who works for the Martin Agency and was living in Spotsylvania County at the time. “You die a little yourself.”
Garner had two goals after the incident: She didn’t want anyone to forget Hunter, and she wanted people to know that car crashes are among the leading causes of death for youth in the United States. To meet both goals, she started a scholarship in Hunter’s name at his high school to protect and save people from dying needlessly.
Because so many vehicle crashes are caused by distracted driving, “we came up with a competition [that promoted] being careful on the road.”
Students were asked to make a short video about the importance of being fully aware behind the wheel. Garner handed out the first scholarships in 2008. She felt it was necessary to give students the responsibility to create the video so the message would resonate with them and their peers.
Three years after the program started, Garner sent a few videos to the Ad Council, which provides service announcement. A few months later, when the Ad Council had a distracted driving campaign in 2011, they asked Garner if she would like to partner with the organization. The collaboration resulted in the Project Yellow Light Hunter Garner Scholarship competition, now its twelfth year.
Project Yellow Light Contest Promotes Intentional Driving
“We have been doing it every year since,” Garner says. “We’ve added a billboard leg through Clear Channel Outdoor and a radio competition through iHeart radio, so now we have television, radio, and billboard competitions.”
Each level of the national competition – high school juniors, seniors, and college students – have separate scholarships. Students who win the college and high school entries in the television category receive $8,000. Radio and billboard scholarships are $2,000 each for college and high school entries.
The number of entries differ from annually. This year, the competition had 2,600 entries from all fifty states and Washington, D.C.
“We are very proud of that,” Garner says.
Project Yellow Light is sponsored by Elephant Insurance along with other partners.
“Safer roads are a priority,” says Alberto Schiavon, CEO of Elephant Insurance. “What we loved about Project Yellow Light is the passion and belief in being engaged and connecting with younger drivers. Their mission is aligned with ours.”
National Winner Kambria Cook Hails from Chesterfield County
Chesterfield native Kambria Cook was among this year’s national winners. Her 30-second radio ad, DND, won in the radio/college category. It was the second time she was an award winner. In 2020, she won in the video/college category.
When she heard she had won in 2020 she screamed.“I was thinking about how great God is. It was a great day,” says Cook, a graduate of Thomas Dale High School and Claflin University in South Carolina who is currently pursing her master’s degree in music theater at Arizona State.
She had the opportunity to see her video on a screen in Times Square during a virtual viewing. “I saw it on news stations, and I was interviewed on Good Morning Virginia,” Cook says.
Cook learned of her win this year a week after her college graduation. “Being able to hear this great news and be part of a positive impact was overwhelmingly amazing,” she says, adding that this year she travelled to Times Square with her family to see her work on the big screen. “It was amazing to see everyone that won the competition.”
“Kambria is the only winner who has won in two categories,” says Garner. “I love that she is a music major. She included a song in both entries. She has a hypnotizing way of attracting people and her peers. I am so proud of her.”
Garner is very pleased that people have embraced Project Yellow Light and that it has grown over the years. The work is now shared nationwide with 1,600 television stations, iHeart Radio, and billboards across the country.
“I respect Julie for starting this. For her to persevere takes strength,” says Cook about how Garner channeled the death of her son into public service. “That has helped me want to [enter the competition] even more.”