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Mariah's Challenge looks to expand after 6 years

By Grace Ditzler, KTVM Reporter, gditzler@ktvm.com
Published On: Oct 29 2013 06:36:29 PM MDT
Updated On: Oct 29 2013 08:44:30 PM MDT
BUTTE, Mont. -

A Butte nonprofit dedicated to helping young people avoid drinking and drugs is looking to expand.

Mariah's Challenge was created by Leo McCarthy to honor his daughter Mariah. She was killed six years ago this week by an underage drunk driver.

Kale Guldseth is senior at Butte Central and he's taken Mariah's Challenge.

"It was an easy thing to join and I'm glad I did," he said.

He was only in middle school when Mariah McCarthy was killed, but he remembers it.

"I was young, junior high still, and it was a big shock to the community," he explained.

Guldseth said Mariah's death was a wake-up call to the community.

"Everyone knew it was a problem, but no one wanted to address it, and then finally when they did address it, everyone decided to hop on board," he said.

Sgt. Jimm Kilmer is the president of the Mariah Daye McCarthy Scholarship Foundation and a cofounder of the nonprofit. He had a personal connection to the tragedy.        

"My daughters Valarie and Kaitlyn were seriously injured, but they didn't die," he said.

Mariah's Challenge offers scholarships for students who promise not to drink while they are underage, and never ride with a driver who has been drinking.

Kilmer said the program has grown greatly in the past six years, awarding $188,000 in scholarship money to teens who remain drug and alcohol-free.

"A number of people throughout the world, not just in Butte, Montana, have accepted the challenge and have said 'We agree with this and we're going to do what we can to start this in our community,'" he explained.

Kilmer said to help grow the program, they are testing an educational component that would put Mariah's Challenge in fifth and sixth grade classrooms.

The goal -- help change what some call "Montana's Culture of Drinking."

"Let's create a culture where being a model student or athlete or a kid that doesn't use, it's cool to do that," he said.

Sophomore Shawnee Hjelt has taken the challenge, and we asked if she thinks it will work.

"Younger kids are really aware of it, so then when they get to high school it really helps out a lot," she explained.

Leo McCarthy was named a CNN Hero in 2012 for his work with Mariah's Challenge. He made the top 10, and was awarded $50,000.