Fund in Kinkel’s honor

– Teenagers saved Scott Kinkel’s life after his 15-year-old
daughter Erin died last August. Their endless outpouring of love
and support bolsters him, wife Miki, and three daughters Megan,
Danielle and Catherine even today, Scott said.
Now, it’s his family’s chance to return the favor.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – Teenagers saved Scott Kinkel’s life after his 15-year-old daughter Erin died last August. Their endless outpouring of love and support bolsters him, wife Miki, and three daughters Megan, Danielle and Catherine even today, Scott said.

Now, it’s his family’s chance to return the favor.

The Kinkels wanted to find a way to remind teenage drivers to be responsible when on the road, whether behind the wheel or as a passenger. Erin Kinkel had been riding unrestrained in the bed of a truck and died when the driver lost control and crashed.

The Kinkels figured they could create something that teenagers would want to keep with them, and would serve as a reminder to drive responsibly.

At the same time, the family wanted to create a scholarship fund in Erin’s memory that will provide college help for deserving Gilroy and Morgan Hill high school students.

The two ideas dovetailed in the form of a bright blue wristband. It’s Erin’s favorite color, that of the Gilroy High School Mustangs, and reads “Drive Responsibly – E.K.” Fashioned after the yellow Lance Armstrong bands Scott says are “everywhere,” the wristbands are available for a $2 donation, which will create an ongoing scholarship fund for GHS, Live Oak and Sobrato High School seniors.

“The communities of Gilroy and Morgan Hill have touched our hearts,” Scott Kinkel said Friday, fighting back tears. “I have so many hundreds of stories I could tell of the wonderful companies and the wonderful people and the wonderful kids – hundreds of stories – of what everybody’s done for us. And there’s just no way you can ever say ‘thank you’ to all the people that deserve it, it would take the entire Oakland coliseum to fill. So this is just our tiny little way of saying thank you.”

The Erin Kinkel Memorial Scholarship Award was formally approved by the Gilroy Foundation Friday morning and the Kinkels are in the process of establishing its non-profit fund, which they hope to open this summer by raising the minimum $10,000 through wristband sales and other fundraisers.

The Kinkels’ goal for this year is to sell 10,000 wristbands and raise a minimum of $20,000, to award at least one $500 scholarship to college-bound seniors from the three local high schools. Some high school students and the Kinkels are already selling the wristbands, as are Chiropractor Robert Kovacs, West Coast Karate and Morgan Hill Gymnastics Club in Morgan Hill, and, soon, Maui Tacos.

One local insurance agent already has bought 250 to give out to his customers, as has a formal wear store, to give to high school students attending the prom.

They will raise funds through other functions, including an event planned for this summer in which karate, gymnastics and cheerleading participants would be sponsored to perform difficult feats. A gym in Morgan Hill has already dedicated its facility for the event, and Scott Kinkel said he plans to ask local teams to participate.

The ultimate goal is to raise $40,000, at which point the fund will be self-sustaining.

More students might receive awards, or the awards might get bigger as the fund grows, Kinkel said, and when Christopher High School opens, the awards will be available to those students, too.

The memorial scholarship will go to teenagers who reflect the person that Erin Kinkel was, and the qualities in which her parents take pride.

“We looked at Erin’s life, at the things that were important to her, and the things that were important to us, and that’s how we set up the award criteria,” Kinkel said.

Requirement No. 1 is that the students show a propensity for making good choices and taking responsibility, are hard-working and dedicated to making a positive impact,

“We’re looking for students who show good moral character, who show compassion to other people, and who have touched other people’s lives,” Scott Kinkel said.

Scholarship recipients will ideally be committed to gymnastics, karate, cheerleading or the performing arts – Erin Kinkel’s favorite activities. Grade point average will be used as a tiebreaker.

Recipients will have their names placed on a plaque that will be visible to the high schools’ students, and receive an individual plaque.

In further promoting the “Drive Responsibly” message, Kinkel, Erin’s best friend and GHS junior Emelie Castillo and Live Oak student Jessica Rioux for months have been speaking to high schools in South County, Hollister, San Jose and Salinas, as well as at driver trainings and church youth groups.

“You just look out in the audience, and I don’t think there’s one person not crying,” Castillo said. “It really makes people think, it really hits home that there’s a chance I could be driving and make a mistake, and that could cost me my life.”

Castillo said she talks about the impact of Erin’s death to show the people she speaks to that their actions have consequences.

“This could be your sister, this could be your mother, this could be your best friend,” she said. “I try to show how much it impacts the people who know you. … I guess my main focus is to say, don’t just think about yourself.”

Scott Kinkel said he is floored by the way the teenagers listen respectfully, pay their respects, and cry with him each time he speaks.

“As a parent of a teenager, you always worry about your teen, you just do,” he said. “I would love to say to the parents of Gilroy and Morgan Hill: You have the best teenagers in the world. These kids have just been awesome.”

During his presentation, Scott Kinkel said he challenges teenagers to have fun, but to make responsible choices. He points to all the “poor choices” that combined to result in the death of his daughter. The message, he said, is well received.

“Dozens of times, at each presentation, I hear from teenagers that they’re driving so much better since they’ve known about Erin,” Kinkel said. “They know her story, they know how important this is, they come up and thank me … it’s the best feeling in the world.”

To donate to the Erin Kinkel Memorial Scholarship

Award and receive a wristband, contact Scott Kinkel

at 847-8920.

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