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.


Never Give Up

During the State of the Union address, I was overtaken by the admiration the President and entire Congress displayed for Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger who was injured in Afghanistan in 2009. In describing Ranger Remsburg’s journey since his injuries, the President talked about the many surgeries and courageous work he has done to move forward. He said that Sgt. Remsburg “never gives up and he never quits.”

My thoughts immediately moved to the thousands of Americans who are similarly injured every year across our country because someone selfishly drove impaired by alcohol or drugs. My heart goes out to each of those individuals, who are bravely facing a different life and digging deep for strength as they struggle with the physical, financial and emotional ramifications of their injuries. In my years with MADD, I have met so many of them and now consider them my friends. I am overwhelmed with deep admiration for their courage and fortitude. Their valor is amazing.

The President concluded his speech by appealing to us to follow this soldier’s lead to never give up. He said, “If we work together, if we summon what is best in us… I know it is within our reach.”  

We know that a nation without drunk driving is within our reach. We know how to get there, what needs to be done, and we are doing it. We do it for the thousands of victims who are now forever changed having been victimized by a substance impaired driver. We never give up. We work together and summon what is best in us.  I am so very proud to be a part of such a determined courageous family.  I admire each of you just as I admire Sgt. Remsburg. You are all my heroes. Thank you for allowing me to walk beside you on our journey.


Full Family Trees

My son gave my daughter, Jennifer, a subscription to ancestry.com for Christmas, and with her husband, she has focused on rooting around their family tree. As I watch, I cannot help but notice a huge hole.

My son Kevin is married and adds a beautiful wife to our family. Jennifer is married and adds a wonderful husband and delightful sons. But Alisa, who was killed by a drunk driver when she was 15-years-old, is entered with the date she was born and the date she died. Her lineage stops with her. There begins a hole in the tree that reminds me of the hole in my heart.

This is my last year to serve as MADD National President. It is a privilege to walk along side each of you. Everywhere I go I take you with me in my heart, which is such an honor.

I have been asked what I am most proud of accomplishing in this position. Goodness. I can’t answer that because, you see, “I” do not accomplish anything alone. Rather, “we” are accomplishing so much together.

I want to say I am most proud of how we support people who have been victimized by substance-impaired driving. We are a powerhouse of kindness and knowledge. I want to say I am most proud of our research-based way of reducing underage drinking. I want to say I am most proud of how we are successfully reducing drunk driving in states that have passed all-offender alcohol ignition laws. I want to say I am most proud of the forward movement in the advanced technology research, the DADSS program, which will one day eliminate drunk driving.

It is for all these reasons that I am filled with not just hope, but with certainty, that we will save even more lives. We will not rest until there are no more holes in family trees caused by underage drinking or drunk driving. We will work hard to ensure that our family trees are filled with great stories and robust legends, not empty promises of what might have been.

That’s why this new year, as every year, I am resolved to work side-by-side and arm-in-arm with you to save lives and support people. I humbly say to each of you, thank you for being in my life and being part of my family.


Even On Christmas?

Yes, MADD’s Victim/Survivor Help Line is open all day, every day, even on Christmas.

The holidays are a joyous for so many, but for others, empty chairs and memories of happier times make the holidays difficult—the grief can be unbearable.

I remember my first Christmas after Alisa died, I was paralyzed by grief. We didn’t make any plans or give any thought as to how we would deal with her absence.  I thought that gathering together as a family would take care of everything.

Looking back, what we did was try to move forward like nothing had changed. I realized we needed to figure out a way to incorporate Alisa in our celebrations, not ignore her absence. Now, before we open presents, we light a candle and share a favorite Alisa memory. Making plans ahead of time lessens the apprehension and helps us to face our pain together.

We know that it is so important to be there for victims and survivors, especially during some of the most difficult times, like holidays. That’s why MADD victim advocates are available 24/7/365 through the Victim/Survivor Help Line.

This holiday season, please make a gift to help support victims of drunk driving. Your gift can provide hours of help, on the phone and in person.


The Season of Light

This is the holiday season. It represents a time of joy and a time of hope. It is a season of light. However, a heart recently broken by the death of a loved one can often feel even more darkness and emptiness during these days that we think should bring moments of celebration.  

I remember the first holidays following Alisa’s death, feeling as if there were no light at the end of the tunnel. Hope? That was a four-letter word. How could I smile or feel warmth and joy when such a huge hole was now forced on my heart and our family?

For some of you whose grief may be fresh, it is hard to see hope during these dark days. However, I do know your love endures for the person you grieve.  It knows no bounds. Hang on to that love. It is your ray of hope, and it will serve you well until you can smile again.

Our loved ones are forever part of our hearts.  As we remember them over the holidays, I ask you to think about the light that was in them – that is now in you – that you can share with others. You can share that light, even with the pain in you. They live on through us. What a beautiful way to honor them, by sharing their love, and the joy they gave us with others. What a gift that is. It is a shining star in the darkness, and in that I see hope.


Together We Care

Alisa Joy

My precious daughter, Alisa, was only 15 when she was killed in an underage drinking crash, so I live each day understanding the serious threat of underage drunk driving. The North Andover High School student, Erin Cox, was trying to make sure her friend got home safely, and for that I commend her; and as a bereaved mom, I thank her.

This is a complicated situation involving the health and safety of our youth. Underage drinking prevention is a key part of MADD’s mission because it is so dangerous. Underage drinking is not just a youth problem; it’s an adult issue too. So MADD appreciates all efforts to keep our youth safe, both on and off the road.

At MADD, we know that our hopes for a safer tomorrow are riding on today’s youth. By getting these young people off to a good start, we are taking a giant step toward their future health and safety. That’s why MADD is focused on tackling underage drinking, a problem that threatens our youth and endangers entire communities, now and down the road.

We hope parents will use this opportunity to talk with their kids about the dangers of underage drinking. When involved in such a situation, MADD encourages teens to reach out to an adult for assistance. MADD’s Power of Parents and Power of You(th) programs work with both parents and teens to give them the tools to help them prevent underage drinking.  You can learn more about both of these programs and the resources available at www.madd.org/underage-drinking.

I am thankful that in this instance, no one was injured as a result of underage drinking. My hope is that the awareness brought about by this situation will encourage parents, teens and communities around the country to start the conversation about alcohol and learn how they can help prevent underage drinking.

Ultimately, it took courage for Erin to come to her friend’s aid, and I know we can all agree on that.

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Warmly,
 
Jan Withers (Alisa's mom)
MADD National President

 

 

 

 


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