While on spring break during his senior year of college, Steven Benvenisti was walking with friends one evening when he was struck by a habitual drunk driver driving 50 miles per hour. His legs were crushed upon impact, his head smashed through the windshield of the car that struck him, and his body was thrown 70 feet.
Steven sustained a severe traumatic brain injury and remained in a coma for 10 days. His parents were called and asked permission for organ donation. Upon awakening from the coma, he did not recognize his parents, could not speak, and had extensive cognitive deficits, including no short term memory, along with severe reading comprehension issues. He spent six months in the hospital, enduring 15 surgeries and intense rehabilitation.
When Steven learned of his grim prognosis and realized what had been taken away from him because of a drunk driver, he promised that if he had a full recovery, he would spend the rest of his life doing everything he could to end drunk driving.
After the crash, Steven turned to MADD and found victim advocates in Florida and New Jersey who helped him and his family deal with the challenges from the crash. Amazingly, he fully recovered, went on to law school, and now is a partner at the law firm of Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, where he represents victims of drunk driving and their families in lawsuits against the drunk drivers and those who served them. He has served on the New Jersey Advisory Board for MADD for several years and has recently been named as one of the five new members of MADD’s National Board of Directors.
Steven is also an award winning motivational speaker who shares his personal story entitled “Spring Break.” All of Steven’s speaking fees are waived in favor of a donation to MADD.
What a gift. I am sitting on the plane and can barely refrain from every now-and-then throwing my arms in the air and squealing, "Hooray!" Instead I quietly giggle to myself so my fellow passengers don't think they are trapped on this flight with a crazy lady. MADD’s VP of Public Policy, JT Griffin, just called me to inform me that the federal transportation bill passed with most of our requests included. I am ecstatic because this will help save thousands of lives.
This weekend marks the end of my first year as president. I can't believe it has gone by so fast. I have been asked what I think my greatest accomplishment has been during this time and I had a difficult time with that question...until today. I cannot accurately describe my feelings because I am so elated. Why? Because this bill will literally prevent so many families from suffering the agony of having someone they love killed or injured by a drunk driver. It will help prevent so many individuals from suffering a lifetime of emotional or physical pain as a result of someone's choice to drive after drinking.
MADD puts a face to the numbers. We are blessed to have the most skilled public policy team for which you could ever dream. JT Griffin, Stephanie Manning and Steve O'Toole know exactly which Congress committee members and staff with whom to work...and I mean work. Together, we have persistently worn down the marble floors on Capitol Hill and depleted our cell phone batteries behind the scene in order to get our priorities in the legislation. We also owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to many congressional staff persons who worked tirelessly with us. On the state level, Frank Harris is equally as talented in working with many of you to pass ignition interlock legislation.
My message to each of you in our MADD family is how your stories make a difference. We put a face to the numbers. This year I watched the effect Connie Russell had on the Florida House Judicial Committee as she told them how her only child, Matthew, was killed by a drunk driver. I watched the effect Ron Bersani, Melanie’s grandfather, had on Massachusetts legislature as he shared her story. And I personally experienced how members of Congress and their staff responded to our requests after listening to Alisa's story. I have personally experienced the power of the personal story.
I often wonder what Alisa would be thinking as her story and her pictures are spread around the country. Her closest friend was laughing recently as we discussed just that. She said Alisa would be mortified. I don't doubt that, because she once told me that in ballet class she didn’t like being the dancer that the instructor had everyone observe in order to perform a specific movement correctly. She would say, "I just want to be normal." Of course, that was a teenage girl talking, but she never sought attention. She just liked to dance. However, she cared so deeply about everything living I want to believe she would be okay with it.
My absolute favorite part of this past year has been spending time with our MADD family around the country. I want to shout from the treetops how amazing you all are. Everywhere I go I am inspired and humbled by your dedication to working hard to support our mission. It isn't easy. It takes hard work. Each of you is committed to the challenge. I love you for that. You are all about saving lives and giving the best support possible to people victimized by impaired driving.
We are determined to eliminate this violent crime. That is why we must stay focused on the countermeasures that are most effective in saving the most lives in the shortest time. Wasting time and energy on efforts that feel good but do not accomplish this goal costs lives! I am personally not willing to do that. That is why I am thrilled with the new transportation bill. It will save more lives sooner, so fewer families will have tragic stories to tell. Instead they will have new pictures of memorable events to put in their family albums.
I applaud each of you. It is an honor to walk beside you on our journey. It is a privilege to be part of this wonderful family.
First there’s the crash, then the lifelong impact.
Thankfully, MADD is just a phone call away to provide support for drunk and drugged driving victims. In 2011, MADD provided victim services to over 63,000 victims and survivors nationwide! That means serving one victim and survivor every eight minutes at no charge.
These services include grief support, help navigating the criminal justice systems and community referrals. Services are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year through the 1-877-MADD-HELP (1-877-623-3435) Victim Services Support Line. A helpline specialist takes care of the immediate needs of callers and then refers to a local community MADD advocate for ongoing support. The helpline is sometimes a lifeline for victims and survivors at their most vulnerable moments.
If you or someone you know is a drunk or drugged driving victim, please don’t hesitate to call if you need a compassionate ear. MADD helps survivors survive.
This past Saturday was the first ever Walk Like MADD event in Boise, Idaho. More than 120 registered walkers, runners and dogs showed up to walk in support of MADD’s mission. The Boise Walk Like MADD event had a fundraising goal of $5,000, which they have already surpassed by raising more than $6,300 dollars—an impressive amount for an event put on by a group of volunteers.
More than a dozen of the Walk Like MADD events put on each year across the country are run entirely by volunteers who want to make an impact in the fight against drunk driving in their community. In Boise, it started with a group of three MADD volunteers who heard about the opportunity to organize a Walk Like MADD event. As word began to spread, the group began to grow and eventually eight people made up the first ever Boise Walk Like MADD committee—two drunk driving victims/survivors, another MADD volunteer, and five members of the Boise community who all wanted to make a difference for the victims and survivors and their families, as well as help make their community safe from drunk driving.
Thank you to the Boise Walk Like MADD volunteer committee, and the dozens of other MADD volunteers around the country for helping raise awareness and funds for MADD to help put an end to drunk driving through Walk Like MADD events.
Whatever your reason, if you are interested in putting on a Walk Like MADD event in your community, or just learning more about it, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
*All photos provided by Marit Welker.
Elegant, courageous, regal, strong, gracious, powerful, kind and clearly a force to be reckoned with. These words are what come to mind when I think of the founding mother of MADD Idaho, Betty Stadler. I had the privilege to meet and spend time with Betty last week—how inspiring she is. Betty is now 90 years young.
In 1987 her daughter, Carol, was killed by a drunk driver and Carol’s husband was critically injured. Not many months after that, Betty began a MADD Chapter and they have been going strong ever since. Her daughter, Sue, told me her mother immediately engaged the governor, the mayor and the prosecutor, as they moved forward to address drunk driving as a serious crime instead of a mistake or accident.
|We were accompanied at dinner by (from left to right) Sue Stadler (Betty’s daughter), Pam Gill, James Bryant, Therese Woozley, and Miren Aburusa.|
At MADD Idaho’s very first Walk Like MADD event, Betty was honored by over one hundred individuals who came out to walk—what a celebration. The day prior to the Walk, MADD volunteers and staff spent a full day working on strategies to reach more people victimized by drunk and drugged driving. MADD Idaho volunteers and staff are amazing; they do so much with little resources. They follow Betty’s example beautifully. MADD Idaho is a force to be reckoned with! What a legacy their work is to her.