Jan Withers

Jan Withers
MADD National President

 Jan Withers joined MADD in 1992, after her 15-year-old daughter, Alisa Joy, was killed by an underage drinker who chose to drive after consuming numerous beers. She first volunteered by sharing her story and lobbying for tougher legislation. Her new focus in life was to try to make a difference by helping to stop this preventable violent crime.

Now as National President, Withers speaks to lawmakers across the country about the importance of legislation requiring ignition interlocks (or “in-car breathalyzers”) for all drunk driving offenders, a key part of MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving®. She also advocates for federal legislation that provides research funding for technology that will turn cars into the cure for drunk driving. In addition, Withers continues to raise awareness for MADD’s victim support services—even leading a monthly support group—while also expanding the reach of MADD’s underage drinking prevention programs.

National Governors’ Spouses Association Winter Meeting

Three out of four teens say that their parents are the number one influence on their decisions about alcohol. One in five teens admits to binge drinking, while only one in 100 parents believes their child binge drinks. These are astounding and revealing figures. They show that parents not only have the responsibility to talk with their children about the dangers of alcohol before age 21, they also have to power to influence their children’s decisions. How many times do parents say that their children’s peers have more influence on the teens’ behavior than they do? The research says otherwise!

Dr. Ralph Hingson, Starrla Penick, Jan Withers, Sally Ganem

Yesterday Dr. Ralph Hingson, Director of NIAAA, Starrla Penick, MADD National Program Director and I had the privilege to speak at the National Governors’ Spouses breakfast in Washington, DC. Sally Ganem, First Lady of Nebraska and MADD National Board Member, invited us to speak about underage drinking and MADD’s Power of Parents, It’s Your Influence program. We felt privileged to share a couple of hours with them on this important topic.

Dr. Ralph Hingson, Starrla Penick, Jan Withers, Sally Nebraska First Lady Sally Ganem & Dr. Ralph Hingson
Starrla Penick & Jan Withers

The Governors’ Spouses Association uses its unique positions of influence to work on life-changing issues. Their Leadership To Keep Children Alcohol Free Foundation, a unique coalition of current and former Governors' spouses, Federal agencies and public and private organizations, is an initiative to prevent the use of alcohol by children ages 9 to 15. I am excited about working together in connecting with parents around the country to share MADD’s Power of Parents life-saving program. 

 Mary Ann Taufa'asau Tulafono,  First Lady of American Samoa, is a strong advocate for underage drinking prevention programs.

Won’t you join us in spreading the message about the dangers of underage drinking, our Power of Parents program, and reach as many families as possible? Just click onto http://www.madd.org/underage-drinking/the-power-of-parents/ for more information and to download the simple booklet. Remember, three out of four teens say that their parents are the number one influence on their decisions about alcohol. 

Tallahassee, Florida Legislative Session

I recently traveled to Tallahassee, Florida to talk with legislators and testify in support of their interlock bill.   I was so uplifted by our MADD family during the visit that I came home energized.

I want to tell you about Frank Harris, MADD’s State Legislative Affairs Manager.   He organized the entire day, setting up the appointments and directing us to whomever we needed to speak.  When I am around him I am in awe, because not only is he is laser focused on the tasks at hand, he passionately believes in the effectiveness of interlocks for saving lives.  The amazing thing about Frank is that he does this for every MADD state affiliate working to pass interlock legislation for all convicted drunk drivers. 

I want to tell you about Jerry Fifer.   He was severely injured by a drunk driver in 2000.  Seventeen surgeries later he still struggles with pain in his body.   He joined us as we met with Florida legislators.  I watched him quietly try to suppress his pain as he climbed the stairs and tirelessly walked the halls of the Capitol.   In the last 12 years he has devoted his life and even his career to ending this violent crime.  His courage and perseverance is inspiring.  On top of that, he maintains a wicked sense of humor and kept all of us smiling as we dealt with our fatigue. 

Connie Russell, Jerry Fifer, Kristen Allen, Frank Harris

I want to tell you about Matt’s mom, Connie Russell.  Matthew Beard was her only child.  He was killed by a drunk driver 5 years ago.  Matthew loved scuba diving and was majoring in marine biology at FSU.   Since that time she takes Matthew’s story to groups everywhere – to students at FSU, to offenders attending victim impact panels, to Florida’s legislators, and to other groups who invite her to speak.   Talk about passion!   She has dedicated herself to spreading the message that the outcome of drunk driving can be a horror no one wants to endure.  She is persistent in her quest to erase drunk driving.  I could truly see Matt’s light shining through her as we spent the day together. 

I want to tell you about Kristen Allen, MADD Florida’s Victim Services Manager.  I can’t help but smile each time I think of her.  She is one of the kindest individuals I have ever met.  She always just quietly does what she thinks needs to be done – which is consistently going the extra mile.  As a victim advocate, she is supreme.  As a friend, one can have no better.  Legislators and their staff listened as she spoke, because she shared powerful stories of people she had supported.

I want to tell you about Dr. Richard Roth.  He has dedicated the past few years following his retirement as a physics professor to researching the effects of ignition interlocks.  He volunteers his personal time to educate legislators around the country on the benefits of interlocks for all convicted offenders.  His wealth of knowledge along with Jerry’s and Connie’s personal stories had a one-two punch on the listener.

I want to tell you about Florida State University Police Department.  Following our day with the legislators, Major Jim Russell, Deputy Chief of FSUPD, invited us to visit with the officers.   They are committed in their work to protect us from drunk drivers.  Spending time with them was an uplifting conclusion to an already enriching day.  Major Russell and Connie happened to fall in love when working together after Matt’s death.  They are now married! 

 Jerry Fifer, Connie Russell, Maj. Russell, Jan Withers, Dr. Roth    Florida State University Police Department

These folks are relentless in their pursuit of a future where drunk driving is a footnote in our history books.  Their dedication is clear – they will not stop until that goal is obtained. 

We will not stop.  We will never give up.  We come together with one goal.  We walk arm-in-arm to eliminate drunk driving.  Together we will win.

New Year

As we give and receive Happy New Year salutations this January, and listen to chatter of New Year resolutions, I think back to the few years following my daughter’s death.   “Happy” wasn’t a possibility, nor did I have the energy to resolve to create change in any way.  I was working hard to barely cope.   

Now I can look back and see that even during times of anguish I did have some happiness.  There were always moments that the kindness of others made my spirit smile, moments of gratitude for the wonderful MADD victim advocate who walked beside me, more moments of gratitude because I was surrounded with people I love and who love me, and treasured moments that made me grin through the tears.  So, whatever your circumstances this January, 2012, I wish for you those moments of happiness – moments of contentment and love that circumstances cannot take away.

I do have a New Year resolution: I plan to do the very best I can to continue our work in MADD of saving lives and supporting those who have been victimized by impaired driving.  I invite you to join me on these endeavors.  Together we are a powerful force!  

Jan Withers

Reflecting on 2011

As the year comes to a close, I reflect on all of our 2011 achievements.  With your help, this year we:

  • served more than 60,000 victims, survivors and others impacted by drunk and drugged driving
  • extended all offender ignition interlock laws to 15 states
  • held our first annual PowerTalk21 Day®
  • celebrated our fifth anniversary of the Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® by releasing a Report to the Nation
  • reached the milestone of cutting drunk driving by more than half since MADD was founded
  • held 51 Walk Like MADD events across the country

But our fight is far from over.  Each year, more than 10,000 people are killed by drunk driving, and hundreds of thousands more are injured. 

In 2012, with your support, we will continue to advocate for technology that can turn cars into the cure for drunk driving, help parents start an ongoing dialogue with their children about the dangers of underage drinking, increase sobriety checkpoints, push for designated drivers, and help more than 60,000 victims, friends, family members and loved ones dealing with this horrific crime.

But we can’t do it alone.  Please consider making a donation to MADD before midnight, December 31st so we can get a great start for 2012 in the fight against drunk driving (and you can receive a 2011 tax deduction*).

Thank you, and have a safe and happy holiday season,

Jan Withers
MADD National President


*Donations are fully tax-deductible as allowed by law.

The Magic of MADD

I often tell folks that when I reached out to MADD I didn’t just receive help, I received hope.  That hope rests in the beauty of the many people in MADD, people who believe and never give up in moving toward a nation with no more drunk driving, people who passionately go the extra mile, and people who care – who are dedicated to saving lives and are devoted to supporting those who have been victimized.   Many are courageous individuals who have been victimized by drunk driving and want no one else to suffer what they have and others have never been victimized, devoting themselves to making this world better.  I am so moved by everyone in our MADD family wherever I travel.  Each individual is an inspiration and I am uplifted in their gifts.

Here are a few of our wonderful MADD family in Orlando, Florida, who gathered for two days to do some strategic planning, culminating with a lovely Candlelight Vigil.

Sally, Helen, Victoria, Roberto, Carol, Jan
Dave Pinsker & Jan
Jan with Mike Cage 
Glynn Birch, Yolanda and Lennie Larson

     Then our MADD New Jersey family gathered to do their own strategic planning.

Fran and Maria

New Jersey volunteers with Vicki Knox and James Bryant

Below are individuals who attended the National Tribal Transportation Conference who are focused on protecting citizens in tribal nations from impaired driving and underage drinking.

The Anniversary of our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving celebrated the hard work of everyone dedicated to ending this crime at the National Press Club.  Illinois Senate President John Cullerton received an award and Qinetiq Bud Zaouk explained the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety.

Our friends in Law Enforcement are forever our heroes for the sacrifices they make to protect us.  Below are the officers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore who received recognition for their efforts.

The culmination of a year’s work came with an invitation from the Secretary of Transportation for a delightful White House Holiday Tour for our fantastic tireless public policy team, Frank Harris, Stephanie Manning, and JT Griffin.


MADD Magic fuels my spirit.   Everyone in our MADD family is an inspiration, a reason to keep on keeping on and a reason to know we will eliminate this violent crime.   You each offer friendship, determination, empathy, passion, kindness, bravery and vision.  I wish you a holiday full of Hope. 

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