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.


Cocktail Expression launch at Macy’s in Herald Square

This Saturday I was privileged to attend the launch of PVH Cocktail Expression ties at the famous Macy's in New York City's Herald Square. The ties are a rich combination of vivid colors woven into the fabric in designs taken from the actual molecular structure of various alcoholic beverages. The creations bear a message from MADD warning about the dangers of drinking and driving, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Creator Irwin Sternberg brought his enthusiasm and energy to the event. Designer Michael Mone, President of Harry Bacrach, Inc. and PVH Neckwear President David Sirkin were also present and committed to the day’s success. In addition, MADD New York volunteers and staff showed their dedication by attending in order to share information about MADD with customers. The information was well received and we were frequently thanked for what we do.

Upon arriving I was greeted with the beautiful smile of volunteer Peggy Lang. Later, during a quiet moment, she shared the story of her son, David Bareck, who was killed by a drunk driver. Her gentleness radiated to everyone around her and soon touched her friend upon arrival, volunteer Natacha Menzies, whose police officer husband, Andre, was killed by a drunk driver less than two years ago. Natacha brought her precious daughter, Victoria, who stole the day with her sweet, bright character. We were also joined by Tom McCoy, ED for MADD NY and Lissa Harris, Program Specialist with MADD NY. Mr. Sternberg invited our volunteers to autograph the back of each tie purchased, with a "thanks for your support." Little Victoria became our star with everyone coveting her perfectly penned signature.   

 David Serkin (PVH), Michael Mone, Irwin Sternberg, Jan Withers,
Natacha Menzies and Peggy Lang toasting the launch with non-alcoholic beverages
Natacha Menzies, Victoria Menzies, 
Peggy Lang and Jan Withers

In addition, a lovely woman, Tippi, whose daughter, Alexandra, was killed in 1994, stopped by with her husband. She connected immediately with Peggy Lang, and now plans to volunteer with MADD. Another gentleman, Doug Szulman, came specifically to the event to meet the MADD President. He wanted to personally tell me how much MADD has done for him and his family. He was critically injured when he was 19 years old by a drunk driver, calling those times the darkest moments of his life, and he continues to endure endless series of surgeries as a result. Prior to the crash, he had planned to go to medical school, but the physical rigors made that impossible. Instead, he was so inspired by the attorney who supported them that he also became an attorney. Now, he is in the process of writing a book about dealing with the tragedy over these many years titled, From the Bottom of the Pool, A Life Reconstructed. The book centers on how he travails upon being thrust into a chaos so young and the people he meets in finding his way back who give him the tools and insight to lead a productive, fulfilling life. I look forward to reading it once it is published. 

Jan and Doug Szulman Jan, Peggy Lang, Tippi and her husband

My dear husband, Joe, rode the train with me up to the Big Apple, sporting his Cocktail Tie from the original 1994 creations in honor of Mr. Irwin Sternberg’s earlier work. Irwin recognized it immediately and began telling stories from those days, along with his launch of the Jerry Garcia ties and their friendship. Naturally, Joe purchased a new tie and modeled it the entire day, but Natacha took the show, sporting a cocktail expression tie to match her exquisite dress.

The day was successful and fulfilling. I am so grateful for the support of Irwin Sternberg, PVH and Macy’s. The connections made on every level were heartwarming and invaluable. It is just another reminder that there are so many individuals who care about the work MADD is doing and so many who are grateful for what MADD has done for them.  


Training the FBI

This past Wednesday I was honored to join Lisa Spicknall, MADD Maryland Victim Advocate, in leading death notification training for some of America’s finest—the FBI’s Office of Victim Assistance. The Office for Victim Assistance is responsible for ensuring that victims of crimes investigated by the FBI are afforded the opportunity to receive the services and notification as required by federal law and the Attorney General Guidelines on Victim and Witness Assistance.

As too many of us know, the way someone finds out about the death of a loved one can cause even more trauma to an already unbearable situation. It is so important that the person tasked with delivering the worst possible news is as prepared as possible for this difficult situation. Even as it is traumatic, if an individual is notified by a knowledgeable and compassionate professional, that moment can actually become the first moment in his or her healing journey. If not, those moments can cause a lifetime of bitterness.

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 help give officers best practices to use as tools during these sensitive times.

Presenting a MADD death notification training to FBI victim services specialists was inspiring.  As we entered the room, Lisa and I noticed how well trained, experienced and professional the attendees were.  We were amazed at their experience, 150 years total. Several had extensive death notification training and most had done many notifications, yet they were hungry for knowledge. 

Of the 30 people in the room, we were touched by the life experiences shared and the losses that have touched them so profoundly.  One of the victim services specialist explained to us, with tears in her eyes, how she was not only on scene to notify victims of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater tragedy, but also the Wisconsin Sikh temple murders as well.  Yet, she was here to learn how she can do a better job of notifying families when a loved one has been murdered. 

As we spoke to the group you could see their body language shift when they felt they had done a good job and when they were uncomfortable with a job they had done.  When they reflected and discussed their thoughts on how and why we notify in the manner that we do, we could see the realization cross their faces that they felt they were better prepared to make notifications. 

Each death notification class is a humbling experience. We leave knowing we have helped people come to terms with one of the most difficult parts of their jobs.  No one wants to be the source of a family’s bereavement, but as the specialists left the room, our hope is they left with strategies to give a compassionate and thorough death notification.
 


My First Year Observations

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.


Betty Stadler, Founder of MADD Idaho

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.


2012 Lifesavers National Conference

Earlier today I gave the keynote address at the 30th Anniversary Lifesavers Conference on Highway Safety Priorities in Orlando.  The Lifesavers conference is the largest gathering of highway safety professional in the U.S., so it was a great opportunity to share my story and talk about how we need to renew the focus of proven traffic safety solutions, including MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving

I also used this opportunity to announce that MADD plans to reach out to many of the traffic safety groups to formulate the traffic safety summit. We’ve seen some states make great progress, but others have been backsliding, so we must take a comprehensive approach and focus on the countermeasures that will help use our safety resources in the most cost-beneficial way.

Read the transcripts of my speech or the press release online now.


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