21 Days in Support of 21: Day 14
By MADD volunteer, Juan De La Garza
My journey begins in the early hours of January 12, 2014. What should've been a calm night turned in to the most horrific ordeal for many. At approximately 12:30 a.m. a part of me was taken. My family lost the most important and influential person we knew—my 17 year old sister Alejandra.
Alejandra was a beautiful person inside and out, compassionate, hardworking and so determined. My sister played many roles and wore many hats. She was an honor roll student and an active member of our church. But her most important role was mother. Her pride and joy came in the form of little Filiberto. He could do no wrong in her eyes. Alejandra made sure any negativity or stigma that came from being a teen mother would be overshadowed by her accomplishments both in and out of the classroom.
Not a day goes by that I don't miss Alejandra. Every day is constant reminder that my family is broken, and a part of me is missing. On that cold morning in January, many people lost a friend, a loved one, when a beautiful life cut extremely short. Many dreams shattered and plans broken all because a selfish 19-year-old made the poor decision to drink underage, and then drive.
My sister missed out on many milestone moments. Alejandra will never get to experience the excitement of getting ready for prom. She never had the opportunity to go off to college, let alone apply for one. Most importantly, Alejandra will never get to see her son grow up. It’s heartbreaking knowing my sister will miss out on so much. And what haunts me the most is knowing this could've been avoided. Had it not been for that underage drunk driver, my sister would still be here. My nephew would still have his mother and my family would still be complete.
When I least expect it, I am puzzled by the same question over and over again. "Was my sister's life worth that drink?" There are a million questions that run through my mind, but I know that even if I ever had the chance or the courage to ask the 19-year-old that killed my sister a question, I'd be at a loss for words. There will never be a correct answer or an apology big enough to heal my broken heart.
I've made it my mission to make sure this tragedy never happens again to any family. Being able to team up with MADD has been a beautiful experience. Bringing awareness to so many young lives and their families is just so unforgettable.
I remember an event I did at a local high school. After I spoke, a student came up to me and hugged me. There, in a gymnasium full a strangers, a young 17-year-old girl cried on me. She showed nothing but gratitude. When I asked why she cried or why she thanked me, the only thing she could say was “Your sister's story touched me, it opened my eyes. I never want to put my parents in that position. I never want to lose a friend. I want to make the right choice, and stay above the influence." In that very moment I knew out of the 1,000 students present that day, my job was done. One life changed, one less teen drinking, one young life deciding to be responsible. All because of my sisters life.
I encourage everyone to take advantage of MADD’s underage drinking prevention programs for PowerTalk 21®. Students, teachers, parents use the materials to make a difference. The more we make it know, the more awareness we bring to our cause.
Don't be the reason why a family is broken, a child is left without a mother or why many hearts are broken. Join MADD and start the conversation this PowerTalk 21 day to help prevent underage drinking and save lives!
MADD National President Colleen Sheehey-Church poses with Juan at his sister's photo at the 2015 PowerTalk 21 Kick-off in Houston
21 Days in Support of 21: Day 7
On December 21, 1990, 17-year-old Tanya Lynn Stage was at a slumber party with friends. But what her parent’s thought was your typical, teen slumber party with pizza and girl talk wasn’t quite as it seemed. The mother hosting the party served alcohol to the girls at the event. Then, later in the evening, Tanya and another girl decided to go across the street to a gas station to meet up with four guys and go for a ride.
As they drove down a back-country road, the teens all continued to drink. The driver hit a patch of ice and lost control of the car, going down an embankment and striking a tree. Unbelted in the backseat, Tanya died of a broken neck on impact. One other passenger was also killed.
After the crash her family had to deal with the multitude of emotions … anger at both the driver and the mother who served alcohol to their daughter and guilt, wondering if they could have done something different, paid more attention or talked to her more about the dangers of underage drinking and getting in the car with someone who was drinking.
If Tanya were alive today she would be 42. What would she be doing now? Would she have a family? Would she be happy? These are the questions her family is left with, even now, 25 years later.
Tanya’s father, Randall Young, now works with MADD as a program coordinator in Ohio, and his wife, Sue, volunteers. They hope that their work with MADD in Tanya’s honor can prevent others from experiencing the devastation underage drinking can cause.
You can create a tribute page for your loved one killed or injured because of underage drinking, or drunk or drugged driving at madd.org/tributes.