DENVER - Monserrat Arenas almost never made it to her 7th birthday last Sunday. Just three days prior, she was riding with her mother when their car was violently struck right where the first grader was sitting.
"I see my daughter just full of blood," said Maria Pedrozna, Monserrat's mother.
At first, Pedrozna feared the worst. Her daughter entered surgery with concerns of a serious head injury. In the end, Monserrat suffered serious cuts and bruises, but she is relatively okay. Pedrozna says while at the hospital, her daughter made a surprising request.
"The first thing she told me is, I need to talk to the principal," said Pedrozna.
Monserrat wanted to share with her classmates the importance of wearing a seat belt and using a booster seat. She believes that saved her life.
"It's important that you put your seat belt," said Monserrat.
So, less than a week after the accident, she has started going from classroom to classroom at her school in northeast Denver, Smith Renaissance Academy, to tell them that she is only battered not broken thanks to being properly restrained.
"It makes me feel proud cause I would've never thought that she would just come out of the blue and tell me that she wanted to do this," said Pedrozna. "She calls it a campaign."
Monserrat talks to students and shows them pictures of the car and of her head injuries before her surgery.
"She's got a magical spirit to her," said Jason Krause, principal of Smith Renaissance School. "She turned seven Sunday and here she is with a vision of how she can take this horrific incident to help people."
Krause is working with Monserrat's family to put together some sort of car seat and booster seat donation drive at the school.
"I was thinking to myself that this is one of those situations where the parents can influence the kids," said Krause. "But, it became very clear, very fast that this was coming from her."
Krause says it's a welcome effort because there's a sad reality at his mostly low-income school serving mostly Hispanic families.
"Many families transport without car seats," said Krause. "When I first became principal over here, I was quite surprised."
Krause says he tries to contact families who do not use car seats or booster seats to drive their young students, but he cannot force them to use car seats. And, he says many families just cannot afford them.
Pedrozna says it is also a cultural thing.
"Oh, they're already in kindergarten, in first grade, and they could just wear their seat belt," said Pedrozna. "No, it's not enough. That's what happens with a lot of families."
Krause is looking for people to donate new or gently used car seats to the school at 3590 N. Jasmine Street in Denver.
A child passenger safety expert says handing out used car seats may not be the best idea, but she has contacted the school to work with them on a proper campaign. If you want to find out what you can do, just click here: http://www.coloradodot.info/programs/seatbelts-carseats/carseats. Spanish-speaking families can use this web site: http://www.coloradodot.info/programs/seatbelts-carseats/carseats/spanishmaterials.html.
Pedrozna hopes that families can change the way they think about car seats, all thanks to a 7-year-old girl.
"She's just a very brave and strong little girl that has a big heart," said Pedrozna.
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