Seat belt poster a success for artist

Linton Springs 5th-grader puts school pride into grand-prize winner

May 01, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

A Linton Springs Elementary School fifth-grader stood along Liberty Road in Sykesville the other day, shyly trying to explain how he had plotted to win a countywide poster contest promoting seat belt safety.

Vitali Brand, 12, jammed his hands deep into his pockets, alternately pawing the dirt with one unlaced tennis shoe and admiring a reproduction of his winning entry plastered on a jumbo billboard above.

As grand winner among 1,400 entries from 21 county elementary schools, Vitali received a trophy, $50 and more public attention than he wanted. The 13th annual contest was sponsored by the Westminster Police Department, the Carroll Resources to Advance Safer Highways Coalition and the State Highway Administration.

Vitali's poster was reproduced on a Route 26 billboard near his school, where thousands of vehicles and his classmates pass daily.

The poster's message -- "Safety Is Only A Click Away -- Buckle Up!" -- was quite clear in large purple bubble letters.

"I wanted the letters big so you can easily see them," said Vitali.

The symbolism of the gray seat belt with a "happy face" buckle was purposeful, too.

"One side [of the seat belt] is happy to see the other side coming together to buckle up," he said, trying to smile without exposing the braces on his teeth.

But nine gold stars, each bearing the words "Buckle Up," were the key to victory, he said. They were strategically placed on the belt, and to either side of it, "to fill in the blank space."

They repeated the all-important theme of buckling up and made his poster truly representative of his school.

"The Linton Springs mascot is a gold star," explained Michele Brand, Vitali's mother.

"He's really quiet and shy and noncompetitive, so I was surprised when he came home from school with a flier about the contest and said, `I'm going to enter this, and I'm going to win it.' "

If his mother's pride was obvious, it was deserved. Michele and Phil Brand adopted Vitali from Lithuania when he was 7 years old. Their Lithuanian-born daughters, Alina, 10, and Villa, 7, also were adopted.

Asked whether his sisters, or his 18-year-old cousin Lauren, who also lives with him, had offered suggestions for his winning poster, Vitali fidgeted a bit.

"Nah, I don't really listen to them too much," he said, grinning.

A good student, Vitali enjoys drawing and recently joined the Boy Scouts.

In addition to the grand winner, 63 other posters -- three from each of the 21 elementary schools -- were selected for recognition by a committee, said Sgt. Michael Bible, community education officer for the Westminster agency. He said PNE Media donated the billboard space.

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