A Thank You Letter This Thanksgiving

Volunteers are the heart of MADD. Patricia Voelker, right, lost her son-in-law and three grandsons in a horrific drunk driving crash. Now she helps others.

I understood the power of Mothers Against Drunk Driving soon after I landed in its lap, shattered by the sudden death of my 16-year-old daughter, Helen Marie. It was, after all, the men and women of MADD who showed me how to survive. To pick up one piece at a time until I was whole again.

Nineteen years later, as I approach the end of my first year as MADD National President, I have an even greater understanding of the power of this life-changing, life-saving organization. During the past 11 months, I have traveled to 31 cities in 20 states – some multiple times. From Miami to Maine, from Detroit to Denver, from California to the Carolinas and places beyond and in between, I have seen the magnitude of MADD’s commitment. It has been a gift to watch and experience the power of MADD’s voice.

I am so thankful for this opportunity.

To our victims, many still grappling with the shock and deep grief of recent loss, thank you for letting us walk beside you on a journey none of us wants to be on. Thank you for joining a family none of us ever wanted to be a part of. Thank you for your courage.

Helen joins Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker as he introduced impaired driving legislation.

To our volunteers: you are MADD’s heart. Thank you. I have seen those of you who are victims persevere in spite of a broken heart. You turn around and do what you can to live with the sadness so there are fewer stories like ours. I know how hard that is. For those of you who are not victims but choose to volunteer anyway, thank you for walking with us. For holding us up. Your participation and compassion make the difference.

To our supporters, sponsors and donors who believe in our mission, thank you. Thank you for choosing us. You make it possible to do this work. To save lives.

To our staff – I have watched you work. I have seen your hearts and your dedication as you support victims, as you work to prevent underage drinking and end this violent, preventable crime. Each of you plays a vital role in this organization. Thank you for inviting me to your events and letting me see what you do up-close. It has been eye opening.

To the law enforcement officers who are out there every day fighting this crime at great personal risk – many of whom I had the privilege to help recognize this year – thank you. You will always hold a special place in my heart. My work with law enforcement began just over a year after my daughter’s death, when I shared my story with Miami’s DUI squad during a roll call. I felt the lead weight of my grief begin to lift. I felt less helpless. What a gift you gave me. What a gift you continue to give all of us.

Honoring our first responders in New Mexico earlier this year.

To our state and federal leaders working to pass laws that make us safer – it has been a true honor to meet so many of you, to stand beside you as you introduced bills, and to testify in support of your lifesaving legislation. These bills included increasing penalties for drunk drivers traveling with a child passenger; leveling tougher penalties for drivers who flee the scene of a fatal crash or refuse a breathalyzer; lowering the BAC to .05 and requiring ignition interlocks for all offenders.

In 2019, after years of work by MADD staff and volunteers, Kentucky and New Jersey joined a list of states that require ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders after the first offense. When MADD launched its Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving in 2006, only one state had such a law. Now there are 34.

Perhaps most significantly, we joined U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell and U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Rick Scott as they introduced legislation requiring automakers to equip all new vehicles with technology that would prevent a drunk driver from operating a car. This is a cornerstone of our Campaign and has the potential to end drunk driving in America. Thank you, Rep. Dingell and Senators Udall and Scott, for your leadership.

Finally, to our Board of Directors, thank you for donating your time, your talents and your energy to the MADD mission and for overseeing our roadmap to a future of No More Victims.

I can’t wait to see what 2020 has in store for our mission to zero.

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