Students are involved in car accidents daily; however, it is not everyday that they end in tragically taking a young person’s life.
Erin Chaffee, a Leesville alumni, had her life taken from her in 1999. She was on her way back to campus from lunch when she was killed in a car accident. Her family and those close to Erin, including Leesville staff and students, were shattered.
“[The Chaffee family was] extremely faithful, hard-working, generous, and after the accident, totally distraught. It took a long time for that family to be able to pull together and be a family again after Erin died,” said Heather Dinkenor, Leesville English teacher.
“[They were a] wonderful family, [were] very involved, [and had] great kids,” said Senor Ross, Leesville Spanish teacher.
Even though Erin herself was gone, her family wanted her memory to live on. So, they started an organization called ECHO (Erin Chaffee’s Hope for Others). The organization donated the PASS courtyard outside the lunchroom to Leesville, and the Chaffee family has kept it up over the past 13 years.
PASS stands for Picnic At School Safely, and it was inspired by the hope to possibly prevent Erin’s tragic death from reoccurring.
The Chaffee’s intent in making the PASS courtyard was to provide a safe place for students to stay at school instead of going off campus, if they so desired.
“I think they wanted two things. They wanted Erin’s memory to live on, and they also wanted a place that students would feel comfortable hanging out during lunch, since that ‘s why Erin had left campus. [They wanted] to give folks a place to, if they wanted to stay, stay,” said Ross.
By donating this courtyard, the Chaffee’s have given so much to Leesville. Unless it’s pouring rain, there are always students enjoying it during all the lunches. Somedays, you can barely walk through it because of all the people.
“There didn’t used to be anything out there. There were garbage cans and that was it. There was nowhere to sit; there were no tables–there was not anything,” said Dinkenor.
The Chaffees had to quit maintaining the area after students no longer volunteered to help.
However, the National Honor Society has offered to take over the maintenance of the PASS student courtyard.
“We’ve always have students who have stayed on [campus for lunch], but I think giving them a nice place that makes lunch enjoyable, somewhere you can look around and think ‘wow, it’s a beautiful day today’, [is] immeasurable,” said Dinkenor.
The courtyard is obviously a very well-used, enjoyed asset of our school. However, it is not really connected to Erin Chaffee. Yes, there is a plaque with her name on it, but student’s don’t automatically connect the courtyard with Erin.
“There is what’s called an institutional memory at a school, which is basically by the time four years goes by, none of the students would remember Erin. So, I don’t know that the courtyard directly impacts kids in the way that it would have back then. But, it is nice when I walk through it, to see it be used and think that something good did come of a true tragedy,” said Ross.
Even though no students remember Erin herself, they partake in an amenity at Leesville that would not be possible without her. We enjoy that courtyard because of Erin. The Chaffee’s contribution will be forever remembered by Leesville students and alumni that have enjoyed it.