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Organizers want area to get MADD

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When she was 15, Laura Ritt was thrown from a vehicle in an accident involving a drunken driver.

A few days after her 19th birthday, her neck was injured when the car she was driving was hit from behind by a drunken driver.

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But the incident that bothered Ritt most was coming upon a fatal accident involving a drunken driver who was her age.

"That really affected me," said the 23-year-old New Richmond woman.

Before then, drunk driving was something she thought someone should do something about. After the most recent incident, Ritt, an Air Force Active Guard/Reserve member, decided she is one of those who must do something.

She joined Mothers Against Drunk Driving. With the help of Wisconsin Development Director Michelle Puetz and Kim Anez, a Somerset woman who has been involved with MADD programs in other communities for 20 years, Ritt is beginning the process of organizing a local chapter.

The first meeting will be held 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11, at the Troy Burne Golf Club, 295 Lindsay Road, Hudson.

The meeting is for anyone who wants to stop people from drinking and driving as well as underage drinking, said Ritt.

"I guess I never thought of it before," said Ritt of her decision to go online and join MADD. "I thought you had to be a mom (to join)."

She is a mother now, but said MADD welcomes "moms, dads, kids, aunts, uncles" -- anyone who is affected by or who wants to prevent drunken driving.

MADD's mission is to stop drunken driving, support the victims and prevent underage drinking.

The organization, incorporated in 1980, goes about that work through activism, education and victim services, said Kari Kinnard, executive director of Wisconsin MADD.

She said through activism, MADD addresses public policy issues on the local, state and federal levels.

The organization offers an education curriculum that begins with first-graders. The program for young children teaches them to cross the street safely, to wear seatbelts and what to do if they believe they are riding with a driver who is intoxicated, said Kinnard.

"It's a comprehensive curriculum," she said, explaining that MADD has courses for elementary, middle school, high school and college students.

But victim service is MADD's mainstay, Kinnard said. "This is really what MADD is built on."

The organization has trained advocates to help victims through the grief and judicial processes.

While advocates aren't counselors, they do offer "that shoulder to lean on, that ear to listen and help to guide them -- through a foreign and frightening process," said Kinnnard.

"We have been trained to triage," she said, adding that MADD advocates can help victims find professional help if they need it.

"The level of involvement is up to the individual and the community," said Kinnard of the responsibilities of MADD "community action sites," clusters of multi-county chapters. Wisconsin has six now.

Some members just want to hand out the red ribbons, intended to call attention to the toll of drunk driving.

Other members, said Kinnard, go for training to become MADD court monitors, victim advocates or media contacts.

"The way St. Croix is going, I think we'll be having a real active group there," said Kinnard.

One of the first things she would like the fledgling group to do is organize a candle-light vigil for victims, said Ritt. She is also hoping for input from area residents as to what they would like to see done.

For more information about the state organization, go to www.maddwisconsin.org.

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