August 8, 2011

Champions of Change Day at the White House

The White House is profiling Americans from across the country whose work is helping our country rise to the challenges of this century. Each week they feature stories of Americans doing extraordinary things in our communities to help innovate, educate, and build the rest of the world. They are celebrating the success of these Champions of Change, learning their stories and sharing them with the world.

Friday, I was honored to represent all the incredible people in MADD who are doing these extraordinary things to help make our communities safer and support those who have been victimized by the effects of drunk driving or drivers impaired by using other drugs with the alcohol. We also know that alcohol is the number one drug of choice among our youth and every year it kills more teens than all the other drugs combined. MADD is truly a leader not only in the country, but the world, in our approach to solutions.

Nine community leaders were honored by the White House for our work to reduce drug use and its consequences and for empowering and inspiring members of our communitites. During our visit to the White House, representatives from the Office of National Drug Control Policy hosted a discussion on how several innovative local programs are successfully working in our communities to reduce the burden drugs pose on local communities. MADD's work is recognized to be innovative and effective in this area.

It was an incredible day. We first were given a private tour of the East Wing. We then walked out the portico facing Pennsylvania Avenue and walked into the West Wing, where we were escorted to the Roosevelt Room, adjacent to the Oval Office.

I had been there once before to witness President Clinton sign the bill lowering the legal limit of alcohol in a driver's blood for determining drunk driving from 0.10 BAC to 0.08 BAC. I was flooded with memories of our MADD President at the time, Millie Webb and her daughters, Brenda Frazier (whose precious 10-year-old Ashley was killed by a driver impaired at 0.08 BAC), and others with whom I waited in that very room before meeting the President. I noted my emotions were similar. I am not in the least bit complacent about the privilege of being there. BUT, the reason we were there is why my emotions filled my spirit. It was because there are so many good people working so very hard to help make our communities safer, to help individuals have more productive and positive lives, and to save lives. Both times, every single person in that room was there for those reasons.

We sat down at the conference table, at the very table and in the very chairs many world leaders have sat, and began a wonderful roundtable discussion of what our organizations are doing. Director Kerlikowski, of ONDCP, led the discussion. Those present shared amazing things they have done to transform their communities and strengthen individuals lives. The stories were diverse - from Lt. Dan Gannon who implements drug market interventions in communities and helps local citizens reclaim their environment - to LaKisha Bryant, Director of Girls Inc. in Albany, GA, who provides programs and services to help girls, ages 6 -18, to be self-sufficient, responsible and contributing members of society. I have to share with you that not only were they appreciative of our support for people who have been victimized by alcohol and drug impairment, but they were very impressed with the details of our Power of Parents iniative as well as the details of our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving.

We needed to conclude at a precise time, because the room was scheduled for another use right after we finished. As the director quipped, "It is coming from someone with a much higher pay grade than mine." We learned that the President was having a luncheon in there following us. I cannot deny that I was disappointed he didn't just pop his head in to say a quick hello....grin.

The day didn't end there. We walked past the "Situation Room" to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The floors were black and white diamond-shaped marble. The door frames are trimmed with ornate Greek key design and the door knobs all have the insignia of each of the military branches. We waited in that not-too-boring environment for each person to be individually interviewed for videos to be posted on the White House website. The interviews took place in the Secretary of War Room located directly across the hall from the Vice-President's office. That room was indeed not-too-shabby itself. The walls were actually gold lame framed in dark ornate wood trim. We sat on antique chairs atop a huge oriental carpet for the interview. It was as if history whispered anecdotes from every corner.

It was an inspiring day with inspiring people doing inspiring work. I quote the White House blog on Champions of Change: "The best ideas come from American people. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has a part to play. Our country's success is built on the fact that working together we do big things... Together we will win the future."

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