How Leo McCarthy and Mariah’s Challenge turned a Halloween tragedy into a beacon of hope
Halloween for many families is a time for fun, especially if you're a parent. Watching your kid's eyes light up when they find the perfect costume. Gathering around the table with carving knives and the biggest spoons in the silverware drawer to carve the pumpkin. Trick or treating. The kind of things that make lifetime memories for parents. But for the McCarthy Family of Butte, Halloween will always bring back memories of the phone call that they got late one night, on October 28, 2007. The phone call that parents pray that they never receive. Their precious 14-year-old daughter, Mariah, was stricken down by a drunk driver while walking home with friends. While the other two young ladies walking with Mariah were seriously injured, it was Mariah who suffered the worst of it, finally giving in to her horrific injuries after fighting for hours to survive.
For a parent, there is simply no greater fear than losing a child. Especially a child like Mariah McCarthy. Mariah was blessed with her father's outgoing personality and friendly demeanor. A child who was a joy to be around. Mariah McCarthy was a lot like her Dad, Leo McCarthy. And what Leo did next is something that gained national attention.
Hours after that horrific phone call, Leo had to deliver the eulogy at his child's funeral. But Leo, although visibly hurting, did not take that time in the spotlight at the front of St. Ann's Church to question God. He did not take the time to curse the coward behind the wheel who was responsible for the tragedy. But he did issue a challenge. He issued a challenge to adults, in his daughter's memory, to simply not get behind the wheel if they have consumed alcohol. And for the kids? If they accepted "Mariah's Challenge" to abstain from alcohol throughout their days in high school, they would be rewarded with a college scholarship upon graduation.
Leo and Mariah's story was picked up by Anderson Cooper on CNN where Leo was honored as a hero.
But that's just the start of it. Mariah's Challenge began to grow. Leo began bringing Mariah's Challenge not only to every school in our area but to other cities and towns as well. Mariah's Challenge scholarship program has helped hundreds of kids from all across Montana pay for college. He has put together fundraiser 5Ks and half-marathons for the cause and the annual golf tournament is known more for the camaraderie, good times and friendships celebrated than anything done on the course. But his friendship is not limited to his organization. He is a fixture at Oredigger games. He is involved in so many different community organizations that listing them would be a lengthy read in itself. Leo is all over our community and continues to give back, although so much has been taken from him. It this time of year that we should remember Leo and Mariah's Challenge.
Mariah's Challenge is still going strong. Kids who were not even alive on the fateful evening that claimed a beautiful young life are now starting to accept the challenge that honors her. And we should honor her too. Accept Mariah's Challenge today. Please consider a Halloween donation to Mariah's Challenge and let's help make sure her light shines on for a new generation.
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