It started out as just another Friday night when 18-year-old Sean Holmes put on his Walkman and went out the front door of his house to stroll over to the nearby technical school and get a haircut. Two days later his parents would discover his body in some nearby bushes because of the impact of the car that hit him.
As a result of this experience, his mother Diane Holmes began the first chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) in Miami-Dade County in October 1983, five months after Sean’s death.
Holmes and MADD executive director Janet Mondshein, in partnership with Miami Palmetto High School principal Allison Harley and area municipalities, recently conducted a press conference at the school to introduce “Power Talk 21” a national day on Apr. 21 for parents to talk with children about alcohol.
Although annual drunk driving related deaths have gone down since MADD’s 1980 inception from approximately 30,000 annually to 10,000, according to Mondshein, the numbers have been flat in recent years. Two decades of research led to a shift in focus to the need for heightened parent interaction with their kids about the dangers of drinking alcohol.
“Statistics prove that kids are very much influenced by their parents,” said Helen Witty, program specialist for MADD. “The real astounding thing is the majority of teens get their alcohol from other adults and a fourth from their parents, or from someone else in the family. Because three in four children also say they make the decision to drink based on the influence of their parents, this is a parent program to empower, inform and encourage communication.”
Perhaps if the adults who were partying with the kids at a home in Gables By The Sea had had a few conversations with their children about drinking rather than condoning it as Witty attested happened that fateful June 16, 2000, her daughter Helen Marie Witty might still be alive today.
While 16-year-old Witty roller-bladed on a bike path, an impaired 17-year-old (who was also on her cell phone) hit young Witty and killed her instantly. In a story similar to that of mother Diane Holmes who began the Miami-Dade MADD Chapter, the experience launched mom Helen Witty into a future of activism with MADD.
“Helen was a student here at Palmetto and a thespian in Drama Troupe 1298 when it happened. The kids have done a walk for her (Walk for Witty) and raised over $15,000 for MADD. We also have a scholarship in her name and every year we give at least one, sometimes two to three, to a drama student in her honor,” Helen Witty said.
Palmetto student and president of Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) Sebastian Siclait also spoke at the press conference.
“With the work we had done for the Walk for Witty I was familiar with the issues and [in addition to the loss of Helen Witty] we recently lost alumnus Andrew Parker. A lot of people knew him. We re-established the SADD chapter here because it is the perfect program for us to have to educate students.”
Prior to the conclusion of the speakers and after the proclamations were read, Major Gerald Kitchell of Miami-Dade Schools Police gripped the audience of approximately 100 students, law enforcement officials, parents, and educators with his final words.
“We are approaching prom season and we are about to have graduations,” Maj. Kitchell said. “Parents, students, and families together have worked for years for this great time of celebration. We want to challenge parents to have that conversation now before there’s a night out. We want to make sure it is an enjoyable, responsible time and that there is a time after graduation.”
To receive a complimentary copy of MADD Parent Handbook for Talking with Teens about Alcohol call 305-273-3744 or 305-273-7122 for victim advocacy. To download Power of Parents Handbook visit the website at www.madd.org/powerofparents.