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Inspiration from Tragedy: Orange 4 Owen
09.17.13 |
“We cannot change yesterday, but we can make a difference today and tomorrow.” -Karen Brezitski ’96

Most families would have been rent asunder. Owen Cole Brezitski was your typical, exuberant 8-year-old who loved baseball and football, pizza and chicken fingers, and the color orange. A distracted driver, who was using her iphone to play music, took that all away on March 17, 2011 when she struck and killed Owen who was walking in a crosswalk with his family in front of the old Bishop McDevitt High School on Market Street in Harrisburg. Owen and his family had just attended a band concert for his sisters, Makenna and Kyla, and they were on their way to celebrate the successful concert by getting Shamrock Shakes, as it was St. Patrick’s Day.

Instead of crumbling from the tragedy, Owen’s parents—Karen Faiola Brezitski ’96 and Mark Brezitski—used their faith and love of family to establish Owens’ Foundation, and the tag line ‘Orange 4 Owen’, with the goal of bringing awareness to the dangers of distracted driving. According to PennDot statistics, Owen was one of 176 fatalities in crosswalks between 2002 and 2011.

With “Slow Down, Be Alert and Save a Life!” as their motto, the Brezitski’s incorporated the assistance of their friends, community, Holy Name of Jesus Church and School, as well as Bishop McDevitt, to initiate legislation and raise funds to promote awareness. Also, through Karen’s connections as a Lebanon Valley College graduate and Mark’s time as an admission counselor and assistant football coach at LVC, the couple involved the College’s alumni network.

Tommy Mealy ’00, athletic director at Bishop McDevitt, was one of many McDevitt connections to quickly get behind Orange 4 Owen. Coincidently, Mark had coached Tommy when he was a star running back and returner for the Dutchmen. “Owen’s sisters are involved in cheerleading, soccer, basketball, student council, and several other activities,” Karen said. “All of these groups, with strong encouragement from Tommy and the McDevitt coaches, have been tremendous in helping raise funds to support the goals of Owen’s Foundation and to bring increased awareness to this preventable tragedy.”

Makenna and Kyla’s classmates and teammates have held numerous fundraisers to support the initiative. “From t-shirts to orange bracelets and orange athletic wrap, to orange scarves worn by cheerleaders and orange shoelaces worn by the girls’ basketball team, community support has been overwhelming,” Karen noted. “Coach Wechter (Jeff, McDevitt’s head football coach) and Tommy even organized an Orange4Owen Bowl Game last year. With a second bowl game scheduled for Friday, October 25 against Cedar Cliff, we hope that it will become an annual event.”

While fundraising has been successful beyond all hopes, in fact, leading to the establishment of the Owen Cole Brezitski Memorial Scholarship, pushing through legislation to impact change is equally important. “We don’t want other families to have to experience what we went through,” Mark said. “That is why we want people to ‘slow down, be alert and save a life.’”

Their efforts led to House Bill 2614 being introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature last October: “An Act amending Title 75 (Vehicles) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for definitions, for traffic-control signals, for pedestrian-control signals and for right-of-way pedestrians in crosswalks.”

Though their labors have already led to the installation of solar LED crosswalk signs at the new Bishop McDevitt High School, increased awareness to the dangers of distracted driving and the introduction of legislation, the Brezitski’s plan on making Owen’s Foundation a lifelong legacy for their lost son. “We know that Owen’s death has already saved many lives,” said Karen. “But much work remains to ensure that other families won’t have to share a similar tragedy.”

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