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Drive Smart named nonprofit of the year

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Chamber honors organization for efforts to save young lives

By Vicky Gits

Since 1993, the goal of Drive Smart Evergreen-Conifer has been to reduce traffic-related injuries and fatalities through a multitude of community programs for all ages.

Evergreen resident Cheryl Ladd launched the program because so many local children were being killed in car accidents every year.

“We had lost a total of six kids in two years,” Ladd said. “We were losing teens every year. There was a huge community outcry.

“You just cringed when prom and springtime came. You wondered, ‘How many are we going to lose this year?’ We just didn’t want to tolerate it anymore,” Ladd said.

In recognition of its many accomplishments, the Evergreen Chamber of Commerce named Drive Smart the first-ever nonprofit of the year at its annual celebration for volunteers on Feb. 26 at the Elks Lodge.

Also in the running were Center for the Arts Evergreen, Mount Evans Hospice and the Seniors’ Resource Center.

The volunteer of the year was Vicki Pinder, and ambassador of the year was Sharon Hilliard.

‘Dedicated to making it safer’

“They were chosen as the first-ever nonprofit of the year because they are continuing to grow and because they are very specific to Evergreen-Conifer. They affect people young and old,” said Ben Allen, a member of the selection committee. “We live in a dangerous area with respect to roads, and they dedicate themselves to making it safer.”

“They are very serious about education from preschool to teenager,” Allen said. “They produce the biggest non-alcoholic event for New Year’s Eve (Skate the Lake) in the Denver area, and there have been no deaths on New Year’s Eve, since its inception.”

Drive Smart brings in about $50,000 a year through fund-raising efforts.

“We are proud to receive this accolade because we are part of a new frontier in fund-raising by partnering with other nonprofits,” said Jackie Mohr, Drive Smart’s executive director. “It takes some of the pressure off giving.

The Polar Plunge is a partnership with the rec district’s special needs program, the Sheriff’s Office and Evergreen Fire/Rescue. Drive Smart is also paired this year with the chamber-sponsored golf tournament.

“The fact we have been here for 15 years allows us to show we have a track record,” Mohr said. “The middle school kids who are teaching Buckle Bear went through Buckle Bear when they were in elementary school.”

The Buckle Bear program teaches middle-schoolers to teach preschool and elementary students the importance of wearing seat belts and being a good passenger.

Basic traffic safety

Drive Smart is responsible for lobbying authorities for numerous highway safety improvements, such as the flashing light at Kerr Gulch and Highway 74; the left-turn lights at Lewis Ridge, Stagecoach Boulevard and Highway 74; the roundabout at Marshdale; and the reduced speed limit in Kittredge.

“It’s important for the young people to see that the community cares about them, that adults are concerned about their choices and are there to support their choices,” said sheriff’s Deputy Dee Patterson, a school resource officer with Evergreen High School. “When they see that somebody else is watching them, it has a direct impact.”

Patterson thinks it’s important that the group gives out between 10 to 17 driver’s ed scholarships to kids who can’t afford programs like Master Drive, Excel and Drive Safe, which that can cost $800 or more.

“That does have a direct impact on the community because it gives them an opportunity to get quality education and time on the road,” she said.

Kate Ripp, a chamber board member and past chamber chairwoman, had praise for Drive Smart’s collaboration with the State Patrol.

“I’m especially impressed with the teen program in conjunction with the Colorado State Patrol that lets teens get their adrenaline rush on the track at Bandimere Speedway and teaches them to make good driving choices,” Ripp said.

Drive Smart Evergreen-Conifer

Website: www.drivesmarte-c.org

Among the group’s accomplishments in 2008:

• The first-ever Polar Plunge in 2008

• Supervised the drop-off, parking and start for 3,500 cyclists and support crews for Team Evergreen Triple Bypass for the seventh year.

• Checked out more than 120 car seats and gave out 30 car seats and booster seats; participated in four car-seat checkpoints.

• Awarded more than $13,000 in driver’s education scholarships to local teens.

• Presented Buckle Bear classes at 15 elementary and preschools.

• Promoted 10 Alive at 25 classes, four Beyond Blind Faith classes and four seat belt checks at high schools.

• Presented 13th annual Skate the Lake New Year’s Eve Winter Festival with Evergreen Park and Recreation.

• Sent informational packets and CDs to 600 freshmen, giving them information on driving laws, scholarships and driving schools.

• Gave out 100 scholarships for driver’s ed since 1997.

• Last year Drive Smart did a mock car crash and extrication program at both Evergreen and Conifer high schools.