By Ethan Forman
DANVERS — When Danvers High junior Kelsey O'Brien stuck the key in the ignition, she saw the dashboard lights blink on, but the car did not turn over.
It wasn't that she had a dead battery; instead, she thought she had lost her one and only chance to win the red 2005 Hyundai Elantra in a car giveaway run by the Keys to Success program.
Students who do good things or get good grades at Peabody Veterans Memorial High or Danvers High are eligible for the car giveaway, sponsored by the Village Automotive Group.
O'Brien did not give up and kept turning the key in the car parked inside Peabody High's field house.
Then, the car's engine turned over.
"The first click, you know how you get all the lights? I thought everyone got that, so I was like: 'Oh,'" Kelsey said. "Then I kind of kept pushing, and there was resistance, and I was like: 'This is going to turn on. Oh, my God. Amazing.'"
O'Brien's mom, Julie, was crying and her father, Bob, could not stop laughing when a mini-confetti cannon went off announcing Kelsey had won the car in the contest sponsored locally by Hyundai Village of Danvers.
Danvers won the coin toss, Kelsey said, which led students from each school to alternate in trying their keys in the ignition. Kelsey said the key she picked from a plastic container did not look right, so she thought it was a fake.
"She thought her groove looked different on her key," Julie O'Brien said.
Kelsey was just the ninth student to try her luck.
She became involved in the Keys to Success program by accident, after she volunteered to become an assistant in a life skills special-needs classroom taught by teacher Matt Bencal.
"I decided to do that and I absolutely loved it," O'Brien said. "I walked around the school watering plants with them (the life skills students) and doing recycling with them and everything, and teachers started to notice that I was doing a great job with them, and one of the teachers gave me a Keys to Success card, and that's how it started."
The key-shaped card is given to students who go out of their way to help others.
Danvers High Assistant Principal Mark Strout registered O'Brien online, allowing her to get prizes, such as gift cards from Dunkin' Donuts and Panera. She was also entered into the grand-prize drawing, and became one of 25 students from Danvers High and 25 students from Peabody High eligible to get a real key.
This is the fourth year of Keys to Success, said its coordinator, Michelle Roselli.
The program has two components, she said.
One part consists of small prizes given out all year long, to keep students focused, and the other is the drawing for the car, which has students randomly chosen from all who get rewards.
"We don't know who's going to win," Roselli said. "Whoever starts the car wins."
O'Brien likes to drive and has had her license for five months, but she has had to share a car with her father, who will not let the student-athlete put a "Run" bumper sticker on his car.
"She's actually a really good driver," her dad said.
Kelsey needs the car because she is involved in sports and extracurricular activities, such as high school soccer and track and club soccer.
"My car was kind of her car," Bob O'Brien said.
As of late last week, the dealership was still doing paperwork on the car, but once it arrives, Kelsey plans to contribute to its upkeep.
"I actually have a job during the summer," said Kelsey, who plans to work as a camp counselor at Camp Christopher at St. John's Prep.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.