Interview: MADD National President, Jan Withers, Shares the Best-kept Secret to MADD's Success & More
By Sarah Ford on April 9, 2014
Q & A With Jan Withers, National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
What attracted you to this job & particular cause?
On April 16, 1992 , my 15-year-old daughter, Alisa Joy, was killed by a teenager who chose to drive after consuming numerous alcoholic beverages.
I started as a volunteer with MADD, sharing my story and lobbying for stronger drunk driving legislation. I’ve made it my life’s work to support the victims and survivors of drunk driving crashes. I am so grateful to shine a light on the issues of drunk driving and underage drinking from a national platform.
My passion for the past 20 years has been providing support for other victims and survivors of this violent crime, but I also live each day understanding the serious threat of underage drunk driving. 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.
April 21st is PowerTalk 21 day—the national day to talk with your kids about alcohol. MADD wants to equip all parents and caregivers with the tools to help them start this potentially lifesaving conversation. In preparation for PowerTalk21, parents can get tips and conversation starters, download the parent handbook and find a free parent workshop at www.madd.org/powertalk21.
Walk us through a “typical” day in your shoes. How are you making an impact through your work?
As MADD National President much of my time consists of traveling across the country. I serve as the spokesperson for MADD. As a result, I am asked to speak at press conferences, traffic safety events, law enforcement recognitions, underage drinking events, fundraising events like Walk Like MADD, victim services trainings, and candle lighting ceremonies. I also spend time with local MADD volunteers and staff wherever I go, as well as community partners and donors.
What do you find most rewarding about your job at the end of the day?
My spirit is filled as I meet the volunteers and drunk driving victims around the country, who choose to make a difference by dedicating themselves to saving lives and helping other victims and survivors. These are such courageous people who are taking something so devastating and creating a positive change. I also love spending time with MADD staff members. They work so hard to make a difference. I am truly inspired everywhere I go as I spend time with these folks.
If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ or advice you’d give to anyone with a similar position, what would it be and why?
I believe the best-kept secret of MADD’s success is putting a face to the statistics. The more than 10,000 people killed each year are not just numbers, but real people with families and friends who love them. I make sure people understand that. I tell my story of my daughter being killed by a drunk driver as well as stories of the many people who have become my friends. No one thinks it can happen to them, until they can identify with the personal stories. Then they too want to help create change.
Looking out 3 to 5 years, beyond the obvious trends, what do you think will be the next big change in your industry?
MADD has a plan, our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving. We base our work in achieving this goal on evidence-based countermeasures that are proven most effective. In the next 5 years we will see the introduction of advanced technology, called DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety) available to be in our vehicles. People continue to drive drunk because they can. This advanced technology will become an option for people to have in their vehicles, like seat belts and air bags once were options. Because they save so many lives, these life-saving technologies become standard. I hope to see DADSS becoming standard someday.
Our thanks to Jan Withers, MADD National President, for sharing her time and expertise with us! To learn more about the impact Jan’s organization is making, visit their website and connect with them on madd.org. Or call 1-877-ASK-MADD. If you are or know someone in need of victim support, you can call MADD's 24-hour Help Line at 1-877-MADD-HELP.
The primary goal for any nonprofit is to get people to support that nonprofit’s cause so they can make an impact. But, behind each of those causes are hard-working individuals, actively involved in making that impact happen. Through our Making Impact Blog Series, we’re going behind the scenes with America’s Charities member organizations to learn how they’re making impact happen and share insights and advice from the staff and volunteers supporting these initiatives.