Happy Halloween!

I love Halloween.  In our household, before it was officially late enough to go “trick-or-treating” the antsy energy of my kids was off the charts - getting dressed in costumes, making sure the bags were sturdy enough, Alisa and her sister, Jenni, coaching their little brother on how to say “trick or treat” and when to say “thank you.”   I truly loved watching their glee as they dressed up in their make-believe outfits and prepared to knock on our neighbors’ doors.  It was a magical time.

Of course my job was to insure their safety.  I walked along side of them, and even when they were a little older and they were feeling it was “uncool” for mom to be with them, I still did so.  When we came home I thought I was being a careful parent by sorting through the goodies, making certain they only consumed commercially wrapped sweets, to protect them from anything slipped into their bags with sinister intent.   But I took quiet happiness watching them sort and divide their treats equally between them, with no prompting from me.  I loved how they cared for one another.

To me Halloween is dedicated to celebrating children and their delight in make-believe.  It can also be an evening for other celebrations so I encourage you to take extra care to be safe.  I wish you a safe and magical Halloween.

Warmly, Jan


Alisa and Jenni, Halloween 1980


Moving Among Heroes

Walking among thousands of law enforcement officers last week at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, IACP, Convention I felt safe and inspired.  I was continuously impressed with their sincere commitment to doing their very best.   Carl McDonald, MADD’s Law Enforcement Initiative Coordinator and Carly’s dad, has represented our mission among these committed servants for several years.

Sitting in as a new member of their Victim Services Committee, I was particularly impressed that they don’t just talk the talk but they have their sleeves rolled up and are working on ways to supporting victims of crime instead of merely treating them as sources of evidence.  The committee chairman summarized the importance of victim services with, “We need to remember that we are peace officers first and law enforcement second.”

This is an amazing group of individuals and I am so proud of our partnership with the Heroes Who Make Our Roads Safe.

Carl McDonald and Jan Withers

I flew from one assembly of champions to Boston, Massachusetts, where I was privileged to join another group of superstars.   MADD is a mighty organization.   Part of our strength is the bond we share for our mission.  Everywhere I go I feel as though I am with family. I reconnected with an old friend, Matt Shedd, former board member.  Their daughter, Hillary, was killed by a drunk driver close to the time my daughter, Alisa, was killed.  Over tea we talked with Mary Kate DePampilis, who is the new Special Events Coordinator for MADD Massachusetts.  As we reminisced, she picked our brains for information.  By the end of the evening I believe she could also feel the “family” atmosphere. 

Mary Kate DePampilis and Matt Shedd

A very successful Lobby Day was the result of tremendous effort and expertise of David DeIuliis, Program Manager for MADD Massachusetts.  He is extremely skilled as well as a deeply compassionate individual.  Six years ago Melanie’s Law was established, requiring repeat convicted drunk drivers to have ignition interlocks on their vehicles for two years.  Thirteen-year-old Melanie Powell was walking to a birthday party with her friends when a repeat drunk driver killed her.   Her grandfather, Ron Bersani, worked tirelessly to get this law passed.  Now Senator Hedlund has sponsored a bill to require all convicted offenders to use ignition interlocks.  

Melanie’s mother - Nancy Powell, Ron Bersani, Jan Withers, David DeIuliis

Thanks to Dave’s tireless efforts we accomplished so much that day.  There was extensive media coverage, including some live interviews on news talk shows and we talked to several senators and their staff. 

Elizabeth Hopkins on Fox 25 Morning News

Here I was on Boston’s Beacon Hill, at the heart of the city where our forefathers first demanded their voices to be heard.    I found myself a bit in awe – that because of them, today we still have the freedom to expect our voices to count.    As we walked the halls of the historic State House, I was again inspired with the dedication of a few individuals who are relentless in their work to make positive change - to save lives. 

Ron Bersani gave a powerful and persuasive speech.

Ghosts and goblins are not the scariest part of Halloween

Halloween night is one of the deadliest nights of the year because of those driving under the influence.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, on Halloween night in 2009, 48 percent of all highway fatalities across the nation involved a driver or a motorcycle rider with a BAC of .08 or higher.
MADD urges both partygoers and trick-or-treaters to plan ahead to keep everyone safe.

Hosting a Halloween party:

  • Never serve alcohol to those under the age of 21
  • Plan safe parties, including providing non-alcoholic drink options to guests and not serving alcohol during the last hour of the party
  • Be prepared to get everyone home safe in case your plans change

Going trick-or-treating:

  • Be extra alert when crossing the street
  • Wear bright, reflective clothing or add reflective tape to costume and treat bucket
  • Bring a flashlight (with extra batteries) so you can see and be seen at night

Do your part to help keep this Halloween merry, not scary, by planning ahead and designating a sober driver.  

Preparing officers for a life altering task

The aftermath of a drunk driving crash creates a ripple effect.  It doesn’t just impact the victim or survivor, but it can also cause overwhelming grief, legal and medical issues for loved ones who are close to the situation. Law enforcement officers are among the first people encountered by victims and survivors after a traumatic incident, like a drunk driving crash.

Unfortunately, officers are sometimes ill-equipped for this life-changing duty.  A 2001 University of Florida study found that 41 percent of death notifiers had received neither classroom nor experiential training in death notification, although 70 percent had performed at least one notification.  As a result, most victims report that this type of early interaction added grief to their experience, rather than making it easier. 

MADD works extensively with law enforcement to make sure they are prepared for those vital early interactions with someone in grief, including:

  • In-person death notification trainings that last for about five hours and help give officers best practices to use as tools during these sensitive times.
  • Wallet/pocket cards for officers to carry that help refer victims and survivors of drunk driving to MADD for assistance.
  • Law enforcement-specific sessions on death notification basics at MADD’s National Conference. 

We are also working on an online course to launch by October 2012 that helps train officers, first responders, social workers and medical personnel on how to compassionately deliver death notifications.  This course will be accredited as continuing education for first responders and other medical personnel.

You can read more about the importance of proper death notifications and victims’ experiences, good and bad, in this USA Today article

Red Ribbon Week

This week, communities around the country are encouraging youth to pledge to stay drug and alcohol free during what is called Red Ribbon Week

Did you know?

  • Teen alcohol use kills about 6,000 people each year, more than all illegal drugs combined.
  • One in three eighth graders has tried alcohol.
  • One in five teens binge drinks, but only one in 100 parents believes their child binge drinks. 
  • Seventy-four percent of kids (ages 8-17) said their parents are the leading influence on their decisions about drinking. 
  • Having regular family conversations about alcohol can reduce underage drinking and drunkenness by 30-60 percent. 
  • When parents and kids are better connected, kids are less likely to drink or use other drugs.

MADD knows that in order to prevent youth from drinking alcohol we must not only provide awareness to them, but we must also equip parents to tackle this tough issue. Because research shows that parents are the number one influence on their child’s decisions about alcohol, MADD created its Power of Parent’s, It’s Your Influence™ program.  Through free 30-minute community workshops and a free downloadable parent handbook, parents can learn how to have ongoing conversations with their kids about the dangers of underage drinking. 

Parents, remember that your influence is the most important factor in helping keep teens safe.  Visit the interactive parent section of our website to get tips and expert resources for talking with your kids about alcohol.

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