SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Students channeled their creativity into a uniquely special honor for Patricia Daniels, a North Kingstown woman who loved the beach, family and good friends.
The Curtis Corner Middle School students decorated their doors this month in memory of Daniels, who died in September 2019 after a drunk driver hit a vehicle in which Daniels was a passenger.
Each door was part of an annual contest the students take part in to celebrate the life of someone lost to a drunk driver.
“We feel it is a great way to remember the victim and celebrate their life,” said Martha Barbera, CCMS health and physical education teacher and the adviser of SMART, along with language teacher Claude Gorman.
SMART is the school’s version of Students Against Drunk Driving, and stands for Students Making Actions Responsibly Together.
Barbera initiated the door decoration contest in 2009 after her niece was killed by a drunk driver.
“It’s an amazing experience for the kids. We make it fun but they learn at the same time,” Barbera said. “We have to make it fun for them to get the message.”
Daniels, 46, known as Patty and affectionately as “Bubba,” did not have any children, but adored her nieces and nephews. An outgoing person, she was described as the life of the party – “Bubba is here” friends and family would exclaim when she arrived anywhere.
Daniels also was a giving person, who offered anyone she encountered small trinkets and other presents.
Her sister Marie Vallese and niece Reagan Singh joined with Mothers Against Drunk Driving victim services representative Francie Mantak to take part in the judging of the doors. Winner Eric Drew received movie tickets from All South County Cinemas.
Vallese and Singh thought they were going to see one door decorated by students, and were quite surprised to see that each home room, about 40, had a different montage in tribute to Daniels.
“This is great….it’s awesome,” Vallese said.
Most of the door scenes focused on conveying Patty’s love for the beach. Paper cut-outs of seagulls and the sun on a door were flanked by an actual folding beach chair, or a picnic basket and blanket. The sounds of her favorite song, the Fugees cover of “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” floated down the hallways.
“She loved her coffee and her yard sales. And the beach, of course,” Vallese said. “And crab and lobster.”
The decorating contest didn’t happen last year – students couldn’t handle the same paper and supplies because of COVID. But this year, the students were eager to participate.
“She liked the beach, so we took that theme and made the ocean different layers,” eighth-grader Savannah Winkfield said. “On the ocean we put all her nieces’ and nephews’ names. On the top we put Bubba’s Beach, because it was her nickname.”
The students also used items from home to help build their displays. Kaila Jillette brought in sea glass and starfish, she said.
“We did a sunset at the beach, a picnic, and treasure chest full of trinkets,” classmate Jeffrey Hill said. “I brought in a blanket and the treasure chest, a costume of a stuffed lobster and trinkets.”
Each year, Curtis Corner Middle School works with MADD to honor a different person lost to drunk driving, and the celebration of that person’s life culminates in the door decorating contest.