This year's award recipient is Emily Steffens.
Emily Steffens was the lead in many high school and community theater plays, co-valedictorian of her class, and an excellent bassoon musician—which earned her a full scholarship to St. Catherine University in St. Paul. One week after graduation, Emily and three friends traveled to the Twin Cities to register for college classes. On their way home, an RV pulled out in front of the car Emily was riding in, causing the vehicles to collide. Emily, who was not wearing her seat belt, was thrown into the front of the car. She was in a coma for almost three months—six weeks of that in intensive care. Emily is now paralyzed on her right side, blind in the right half of each eye, and suffers from significant memory issues. It is difficult for her to carry on a conversation.
Two years ago, Emily began to share her life and its challenges with others through a column in the local newspaper titled, “It’s My Life: Living with Severe Traumatic Brain Injury.” With help from her father, Emily uses the column to educate the community each week on the importance of seat belt use; most of her columns focus on how her life will forever be changed because she didn’t wear hers. The residents receiving the newspaper will tell you that her column is the first thing they turn to each week. Emily is a very positive person, always trying to brighten someone’s day with a compliment. This column is her way of giving back to the community that has supported her and her family, by trying to change behavior so others are spared what she and her family have gone through.