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A Conversation with Julie Garner, Founder of Project Yellow Light

Project Yellow Light was an organization that caught my attention on a billboard. Is it fitting that their purpose is a student led PSA competition about texting and driving? Yes, very fitting. I chatted with Julie Garner, founder of the project, via email. It’s more than just another PSA campaign.

Madison Grace: What's the elevator pitch for Project Yellow Light?

Julie Garner: Project Yellow Light is an annual national scholarship competition for high school juniors & seniors and all full time college students; calling them to create a TV, radio or billboard public service ad warning their peers of the dangers of distracted driving; primarily texting while driving. 

 MG: Can you explain the thinking behind the name?

JG: Project Green Light was a film competition for first-time filmmakers, produced by Matt Damon and others, at the time of Project Yellow Lights’ inception. We played off of that name as our initial offering was a video competition, and, of course using Project “Yellow” Light to indicate caution.  We have since added billboard and radio to our offering.

MG: Why should teens know Hunter's story? And why was it important to you to carry out Hunter's legacy in this way?

JG: We share Hunter’s story because we want young people to know that it could happen to anyone. We all think we’re invincible, especially at that age. And we want to keep our youth safe! I can’t bring Hunter back, but I can do everything in my power to protect other young people from dying needlessly due to a car crash.

 When Hunter died, I pretty much did, too. We started this project because we didn’t want anyone to ever forget Hunter; and I wanted to save all his friends from meeting that same demise.

 This competition is designed for youth, by youth. It’s critical to us that students have a voice in helping reverse the number of teen and young adult deaths and injuries due to distracted-driving car crashes. By giving them ownership of this tragic problem, we believe they can help find a solution.

“The more people involved, the more we amplify our message,”
— Julie Garner, Founder of PYL

 MG: Why did you decide to make it a scholarship? And where does funding come from?

JG: This project started in Hunter’s high school in Fredericksburg, VA. We felt that if we offered it as a scholarship with a monetary incentive, it would attract more submissions. Our funding now comes primarily from our generous corporate sponsors, whom we adore! That includes AT&T’s It Can Wait and Apparent and Elephant Insurance. We’re always open to more partners with the intent of growing the competition and spreading our mission.

Not only do winners receive up to $5,000 for their PSA, their work is also likely shared nationwide thanks to our amazing media partners who help run this project – the Ad Council, CBS NY, Clear Channel Outdoor and iHeartRadio. Additionally, we announce our winners each year in NYC where the winning submissions are displayed on one of Clear Channel Outdoors’ big boards in Times Square!

MG: And finally if you had one thing to tell teens before heading out on the road, what would it be? 

JG: When you get in the car; just drive. Stay focused and pay attention to the road. We want you to stay safe so you can enjoy your life!

Thank you to Julie Garner for being willing to be open about her experiences and talk about Project Yellow Light, Everything you need to know about the project can be found here.  All high school juniors & senior and undergrad college students are encouraged to take part in the competition. There’s also info about donations on the site.

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