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Mariah's Challenge: Grieving Father Leo McCarthy Offers Teenagers Money For Not Drinking

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In memory of his young daughter, a grieving father is offering teens thousands of dollars to not drink, CNN reports.

Five years ago, Leo McCarthy's 14-year-old daughter, Mariah, was killed when a 20-year-old drunk driver hit her as she was walking home with two friends in Butte, Mont.

In the days immediately after her death, McCarthy said he watched as his daughter's young friends struggled to deal with their grief.

“They were all fumbling and bumbling about," he told Mariners Magazine in 2009. "I told them they needed to look beyond the death and toward something more hopeful. As I was doing the eulogy, I wanted to talk to that group of kids and let them know that there is more to the world.”

So at Mariah's funeral, McCarthy issued an unusual challenge -- Mariah's Challenge -- to Butte's teenagers.

"If you stick with me for four years," he said during his daughter's eulogy. "Don't use alcohol, don't use illicit drugs but give back to your community, work with your parents and talk to your parents, I'll be there with a bunch of other people to give you money."

McCarthy has kept his promise.

Together with Jimm Kilmer and Chad Okrusch, the fathers of Mariah's two friends who survived the accident, McCarthy, 52, started a non-profit which has raised and given out more than 140 $1,000 scholarships to Butte high schoolers over the years

"I wanted to give them encouragement and to tell them that...you can be better and always be greater in the situation," McCarthy told CNN.

To be eligible for the Mariah's Challenge scholarship, teens must sign a pledge to not drink until they are 21 and not get into a car with someone who has been drinking. In their senior year of high school, they can submit a scholarship application -- as long as they haven't been convicted of underage possession of alcohol or drugs.

"Mariah is forever 14. I can't get her back," McCarthy said. "But I can help other parents keep their kids safe."

This year, more than 40 high school seniors were awarded scholarships, MTStandard.com reports. At the emotional awards banquet, Butte citizens expressed their pride towards the student winners and lauded the positive paradigm shift that has occurred within the city thanks to McCarthy's challenge.

"I think about the culture change we have in Butte now, with a program like this," said Brian Morris, Montana's Supreme Court Justice, at the event. "I'm so proud that it's coming from Butte, Montana and spreading throughout the Northwest -- and I think to myself, if we can change the culture of alcohol in a place like Butte and we have people like you growing up, we can change anything in the world."

According to CNN, Montana routinely ranks in the top five per capita for drunken-driving fatalities.

McCarthy said he hopes that by adopting Mariah's Challenge, the teenagers of Montana will slowly change this statistic.

Watch the highlights from the 2012 Mariah's Challenge scholarship banquet in this YouTube video:

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