Ashlee Bruggenschmidt, from Tennyson, is the founder of the Play for Kate Foundation. Play for Kate advocates for helmet safety laws and got a bill signed into law in 2017 in the state of Indiana. Bruggenschmidt is also the principal at Sharon Elementary School in Newburgh. #weareonenation (Photo: MaCabe Brown / Courier and Press)
Q & A with Ashlee Bruggenschmidt
What does it mean to you to be an American?
"To be an American means to live your life in a way so that if today was your last day, you would feel good about the choices and decisions in life that you made. Choices that make a positive difference, leave a lasting impact for the goodness of others. As Gandhi said, 'Be the change you want to see in the world.' That is what being an American means to me - to be selfless, to be kind, to sacrifice, to give hope and grace to make the world a better place."
What moment touched and motivated you to launch this effort?
"About a year after (Kate's) accident, I was sitting with a friend and I looked at her and said, 'I can't believe there's not a helmet law in Indiana.' As educators, it's our jobs to keep kids safe."
What gives you hope?
"The goodness of our community and giving or helping others gives us hope. Giving is a way to channel our grief. It helps us focus on someone else's needs rather than our own sadness. We try to focus on the positives. In Kate's tragedy, we were confronted with an outpouring of good, hope, caring and compassion from our community. The community helped us to move forward and do something meaningful with the time we have left here on Earth in Kate's honor/memory."
What concerns you?
"What concerns me is all the hate, anger, belittling and resentment in the world today. You see it on television, on social media, in our leadership, and in every walk of life. Our kids and society in general need more love, compassion, empathy, grace and hope. It is all of our jobs as citizens to make that culture change ... into a culture of hope, humility and prosperity."
What do you hope to accomplish through your efforts?
"Zero preventable deaths from ATV accidents."
Location: Boonville, IN
Profession: Principal, Sharon Elementary School, Newburgh, IN
When Kate Bruggenschmidt went to hang out with friends between softball games, her mother's primary concern was that her daughter didn't go swimming, fearing she'd wear herself out.
What Ashlee Bruggenschmidt never considered was that Kate may hop onto an ATV.
The 750-pound, four-wheel ATV Kate and her friend were riding rolled over, crushing Kate beneath it and causing "massive cerebral disruption - blunt force trauma to the head." It killed her instantly. She was 11 years old.
For a year, Ashlee, the principal at Newburgh, Indiana's Sharon Elementary School, didn't talk about the crash. But one day a thought occurred to her.
"I can't believe there's not a helmet law in Indiana."
The foundation built a playground in Kate's memory in Boonville, but the important work was just beginning.
Ashlee Bruggenschmidt testifed before the Indiana House and Senate, alongside doctors, Kate's friends and advocates from public interest groups.
"As educators, it's our jobs to keep kids safe," Ashlee told colleagues.
It wasn't easy, but on July 1, 2017, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed House Enrolled Act 1200 -- Kate's softball number was 12 -- into law. It dictates that all ATV riders younger than 18 must wear a helmet, both on public and private land.
"HEA 1200 isn't going to change Kate's outcome, but it is going to change outcomes for other kids in the state of Indiana," Ashlee said about the bill.
Still, Ashlee's work continues.
Working with a company in North Carolina that makes bomb-disposal robots, Ashlee developed "Safety Sam," an interactive robot that can travel to schools and teach kids about the importance of ATV safety. Sam rides his own ATV and is operated remotely by an Indiana Conservation Officer who can interact with kids near Sam via headset.
The Play For Kate Foundation has secured funding for a total of four Safety Sams, with orders for more from three states and Puerto Rico.
In August, Ashlee spoke with leaders in Washington, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, about a national ATV helmet law.
Ashlee's goal? "Zero preventable deaths from ATV accidents." For Kate.
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