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.

Towering in Triumph

They began small in size,
but because they are dynamic in determination,
they are towering in triumph.

The amazing people at MADD Washington are unwavering in their vision to build a strong organization.  They are determined to be a powerful voice for saving lives and helping people.

For a few years they have been smaller in size, but the volunteers never gave up.  They have always been an impressive group, but as a result of their focused direction, they are growing and are indeed mighty.

The volunteers include people who have been victimized by substance impaired driving, as well as business owners, media specialists, law enforcement, prosecutors and other community partners.  I was privileged to spend time with many of these individuals who are all passionate about eliminating this preventable crime. In the past year they have grown enough to be able to hire Program Manager, Amy Ezzo.  Together they recently all came together over a weekend to host a gathering to meet the MADD President and hold a successful Walk Like MADD. 

Following some media interviews, a lovely reception was held on Friday where I had the opportunity to talk with community partners, volunteers and people victimized by substance impaired driving.  It was an inspiring afternoon, listening to so many people dedicated to creating a safer community.

Joan Davis, Jan Withers, Mischelle Davis

Amy Freedheim, Dan & Marilyn Schulte

Seattle WLM volunteers and staff following Saturday preparations

The Walk Like MADD was held on Sunday under cloudy skies (surprise, surprise in Seattle), but that failed to dampen anyone’s spirits. Their Walk also had a run component, and with the combination of both walkers and runners, there were about 450 participants.  Their goal was to raise $50,000 in order to move forward with our mission.  To date, those inspiring and determined individuals in MADD Washington, along with their dynamic sponsors, have raised $57,000.  They are already working on ideas to improve and grow their event even more next year.

Kathi Sturgeon, Keynote Speaker

And the Walk Begins

Amy Ezzo, Jan Withers & Alyssa Waskeiwicz

Betty Skinner, Marsha Masters
& Law Enforcement Cadet

Dante said, “From a little spark bursts a mighty flame.”   MADD Washington, you are becoming a mighty flame.  You climb the mountains as if they are foothills.  You never take your eyes off the vision of a nation without drunk driving.  You are a powerful force in Washington, achieving great things.   I applaud your accomplishments. 

Our Vision

My husband and I were privileged to spend time this week with the wonderful people in our MADD Michigan office. Their outlook is inspiring. They spoke as individuals and as a team in saying that they approach everything they do by staying focused on our mission.

They have experienced a great deal of change in the past few years, and yet, they remain focused. Under the leadership of their new executive director, Tyler MacEachran, they are moving forward with their Vision to Action. “Our goal is excel in victim services/programs/fundraising/volunteerism/awareness; implement best practices from elsewhere; pilot innovative efforts ourselves and become the most effective MADD Chapter in the world at meeting our Mission. And, we want to get there rapidly.”

Their passion for their work is incredible and their love for the people they serve is palpable.

 Jan with the MADD Michigan Team

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington D.C., when Dr. Martin Luther King and the thousands of courageous individuals walked in peace, dignity, grace and passion. In President Obama’s words, they walked to “awaken Americans’ slumbering conscience. That was the spirit they brought here that day. That was the spirit they carried with them back to their neighborhoods. That steady flame of conscience and courage that would sustain them…”

I remember those days, but I had to grow up to recognize their sacrifice and commitment. I had to experience my own anguish to not only appreciate, but now deeply understand their courage, vision and determinationfor change. Vision. There’s that word again. What a great word. I am so thankful to MADD Michigan for their inspiration.

We, in MADD, stand on the shoulders of thousands who paid the ultimate price of having loved ones killed or who were seriously injured by drunk driving, and had the courage to awaken Americans’ conscience and say NO MORE. We owe them a great debt. We have accomplished so much, but still have more to do.

Our vision is also our goal, and we will not quit until we have eliminated drunk driving in the United States. Sure, sometimes we stumble, but when we stay focused on our mission, we continue to move forward with strength.

President Obama said one other thing that rang true for me today. He said that when we see others suffering, we see our own family. He followed it with, “That’s where courage comes from – when we turn not from each other, or on each other, but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from. And with that courage, we can stand together…” to make change.

It is this spirit that carried our founders forward. It is this spirit that continues to give the courageous and committed men and women in MADD the vision to move forward. Together, we will not stop until we have a nation free from the carnage of drunk driving.

MADD Victim Assistance Training Institute

Expanding and Enhancing Services to Victims of Substance Impaired Driving
in Non-Urban Communities

My mother was always proud of the fact that she had served as the principal of a high school in Nebraska prior to my birth. Until this week my own encounters with Nebraska were limited to driving through the state several times with my husband as we crossed the country. I remember wondering if the endless miles of farmland would ever end. As I sit on the plane to go home, I now reflect on the exquisite beauty of those farms and the unforgettable experiences of the past few days.

The primary purpose of my trip was to attend the Advanced Victim Assistance Training Institute. MADD victim advocates from across the nation gathered to learn how to expand and enhance support to people victimized by substance impaired driving in non-urban communities, then create an action plan to take home and implement. Indeed, the training was excellent, as it always is by our outstanding team in the victim services department at our national office. They are there to support us in every way possible, and they proved that again. In addition to John Evans and Lauren London, we were privileged to be trained by Trudy Gregorie who is an outstanding national victim advocate and superb trainer from Justice Solutions. We thank the Office for Victims of Crime for the opportunity to offer this training.

About 50 MADD staff and volunteer victim advocates from around the country attended. Their dedication and intense desire to provide top-notch support to victim/survivors touched my heart. Truly the highlight of the training occurred at the conclusion of the first day with a beautiful mission moment when individuals who were victimized in rural communities shared their stories. Victim advocate, Anne-Berit Condit told us of her difficult physical and emotional struggles after being hit by a vehicle when she was on her bicycle. Nancy Leffel shared her beautiful daughter, Kam, with us and relayed how she was killed. Nancy is also a victim advocate. Todd and Jaimie Calfee shared the story of their daughter, Alexis, who was killed with her boyfriend, Chris, on a country road. Jaimie now expresses a desire to reach out and support others as they navigate the rocky pathway following an impaired driving crash. Each person touched our hearts. Their courage and commitment to sharing their stories to make a change never ceases to inspire me.

Nancy & Rick Leffel

Nebraska First Lady Sally Ganem is a valued member of MADD National Board. She is a lifelong educator and brings to MADD her passion and expertise in underage drinking prevention. Among her plethora of talents is her ability to bring factions of communities together to create needed change within the neighborhood….the skill we were learning at the institute to increase victim services in non-urban communities. Sally also serves on the MADD Nebraska Advisory Board. Upon learning of my visit, she went into action as only this First Lady can do. She held an open house one day prior to the VATI, inviting community partners and impaired driving victims to the Governor’s Residence to meet me. It was well attended and deeply appreciated. The Open House was followed with a press conference on the front steps of the Governor’s Residence, highlighting the MADD Victim Assistance Training Institute. Todd and Jaimie Calfee eloquently spoke about the effects of learning their daughter, Alexis, was killed. 

Jan Withers & Nebraska First Lady Sally Ganem

First Lady Ganem invited me to stay in the Governor’s Residence. When I expressed concern that I would be imposing, she replied, “When will you ever get to say you stayed in a governor’s residence? That’s all it took to convince me! What a treat. Of course, the home is stunning, but what made the strongest impression during my visit is the intentional accessibility of the Governor and First Lady. Sally moves from one commitment to another from sunrise and long past sunset. She genuinely cares about each person with whom she comes in contact and makes sure that person knows he/she is important to her. One evening they hosted a reception for the recipients of college scholarships and another the First Lady drove to the state fair, in order to say thank you to a student who built a replica of the Governor’s Residence out of legos. She wanted that young person to know he was appreciated. I can only imagine what it meant to him and his parents that she took the time to do that. Later that same evening she offered an impromptu tour of the Residence to several of the VATI participants with whom we were having dinner. It was late and she had to be tired – but there she was, opening her home and her heart to others. 

This story would not be complete without telling you about Sara Draper, Andrea Frazier, and Michelle Halim, our MADD Nebraska staff. They are truly dedicated to our mission, but more importantly, to the people they serve. Several community partners made it a point to tell me of the excellent work they are doing. Victim/survivors relayed to me that the support they received from MADD Nebraska was truly their lifeline. However, no one had to tell me. It was easy to observe the interactions. 

Sara Draper, Jan Withers, Andrea Frazier, First Lady Sally Ganem

This reminds me of the saying I have given to every victim advocate when I have been a trainer. No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. We in MADD, do have a great deal of knowledge, but we care even more. I believe that is why we are so successful. 

We’re All in This Together

I recently traveled to Little Rock to give the keynote speech at the Arkansas Underage Drinking and Injury Prevention Conference. Their theme reflected their tone: “We’re All In This Together.” Individuals from every organization dealing with these issues attended the conference – from police officers, victim advocates, as well as health officials.

Two inspiring guest speakers were Kathi Meyer Sullivan and her husband, Chris Sullivan. After a night of binge drinking and poor choices, Kathi’s 17 year old daughter, Taylor, wandered away alone in the woods and drowned in only two feet of water. Chris was an NFL football player from 1996 to 2002 and played in two Super Bowls. He went from the Super Bowl to fighting for his life and future. He battled anxiety and an addiction to drugs and alcohol that ended up taking over his life. He has been sober since Dec, 2008 and now shares his story to help others make good choices surrounding alcohol and drugs.

Kathi Meyer Sullivan & Jan Withers

Many MADD Arkansas staff and volunteers attended the conference. Four volunteers were guest speakers at Victim Impact Panels held during the conference.  Kathy Paulette, Heather Evans, Tammy Hahn and Barbara Stillings spoke eloquently about their victimizations and why they work so hard to prevent others from suffering similar tragedies. They were so inspiring and had the audience riveted to their stories. They truly touched the hearts of everyone in the room.

Kathy Paulette, Heather Evans, Tammy Hahn and Erin Blome

It is always a joy to spend time with our MADD family around the country. MADD Arkansas staff and volunteers are amazing. With the leadership of Pam Sell, they have expanded their volunteer base in the past few years. During my visit they held an open house for victims/survivors, volunteers, and community partners. The reception area of their office was truly packed with guests. The room overflowed with energy, friendship and mutual respect.

I send my gratitude to MADD Arkansas for all you do, every moment of every day. You are truly making a difference.

Carlisle Chrysler Nationals Show

When my husband and I shop for a car, the inevitable exchange between us goes like this: "Jan, do you want to test drive it before we buy it?" My response is 100% predictable. "No, a car is a car. I am sure it drives just fine."

Consequently, never would I have dreamed I’d feel so inspired at the Carlisle Pennsylvania Chrysler Nationals Show last week, where 99 acres of fair grounds were covered with vintage vehicles. (The "vintage" cars were primarily made during the time of my youth so, sadly, they didn't look all that "vintage" to me.)

Sharyn Casey, MADD National Development Director, and I were warmly greeted by Mark Breiner, CEO, and Pat Meehan, President, of DG Group Inc. with Dream Giveaways. Their graciousness could only be exceeded by their enthusiasm.

While we were there, they unveiled to the audience two dream cars that will be given away, plus money to cover the taxes. One lucky winner who purchases a $3.00 raffle ticket between now and May 31, 2014 will receive both cars. One is a beautifully restored 1971 426 Hemi Plum Crazy Charger (they made less than 100 of them that year) and the other is a 2013 426 Hemi Charger built today with all the advanced technology. Even I thought they were stunning.  

The DG Group is a proud sponsor of four charitable organizations, and MADD is blessed to be one of those charities. Mark and Pat’s enthusiasm was contagious and inspiring. They were genuinely as excited about being able to contribute to these organizations that are working so hard to make a difference, as they were about their cars. Their sincere energy and dedication to help showed me again how many good people there are in every walk of life eager to support their fellow human being.

On stage with us was Kim Valentini, founder of Smile Network International, who had just traveled from Peru where they are working with patients. Doctors donate their skills and travel to remote areas around the world with Smile Network to provide surgery to children shunned because they suffer from a cleft palate. This gift truly changes lives.  

Kim was my second source of inspiration. As we talked about why each of us devotes our hearts and souls to what we do, she shared her story of how she began Smile Network International. She had been struggling with painful issues in her life when she did something she never does - turn on the TV. She said it was as if Oprah was sitting in her living room talking directly to her. She quoted Oprah saying, "Take your pains, go out into the world and create change." Kim touched my heart with her story and her message. This amazing woman inspired me to continue to work even harder.

It describes perfectly what so many of us in MADD have done. We do it to save others from similar pain. I humbly say thank you to each of you who do this day in and day out.

"Take your pain, go out into the world and create change."

How simple. How beautifully put! I could hardly wait to share it with you all. May these words inspire you to continue on our path like they have for me.

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