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Federal grants shift Drive Smart into hire gear

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By Stephen Knapp

Since its founding in 1993, Drive Smart Evergreen/Conifer has grown from a small band of safety-spirited neighbors into a local institution with hundreds of dedicated volunteers administering numerous programs serving thousands of area residents annually. This year, thanks to a timely trio of federal grants and the organization's demonstrated resiliency, the nonprofit stands poised to expand its scope, its reach, and - for the first time in a very long time - its paid staff. "This allows us to expand beyond the limits of Evergreen/Conifer and help the local economy by creating paid jobs," says Jackie Mohr, Drive Smart's executive director and - until now - sole employee. "And the trickle-back effects will come right back into this community." In cooperation with Jefferson County Public Health nurse Melissa Broudy, last spring Mohr applied to the Colorado Department of Transportation for three National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reimbursement grants totaling $93,000. Awarded in July and set to kick in on Oct. 1, the promised funds are already hard at work. A recently-engaged intern, for example, is busy creating a donor-tracking database and compiling data that should help keep Drive Smart fiscally healthy and, in some measure, quantify its community impact. In addition, Mohr's signed on three part-time personnel who, in exchange for modest stipends, will coordinate the popular Buckle Bear program, manage the celebrated Skate the Lake fund-raiser and keep track of Drive Smart's volunteer legions. But seven more positions are available, and Drive Smart's looking to fill those contract posts from the community it serves. At $40,000, the largest of the three grants is tagged for Drive Smart's youth-oriented "Foothills Teen Peer-to-Peer Driving Safely Initiative." Besides doubling the number of driver-education scholarships it bestows from 15 to 30, the money will help the organization reach green motorists in neighboring regions. "We're expanding our high school programs from Evergreen and Conifer into Clear Creek High School and Platte Canyon High School," explains Mohr. "The grant allows us to have a designated person at each school. They'll work with the school resource officers and administrators, and work with the students to create peer-led safety programs." A second grant worth $30,000 goes to the "Child Passenger Safety Program Expansion to the Underserved," extending Drive Smart's car-seat and Buckle Bear programs into Clear Creek and Park counties, and making Buckle Bear available to every one of Jeffco's 400-plus Head Start kids. In addition, the funds will pay to train 10 new car-seat technicians - four in the mountain area, four who'll work with the Jefferson County Department of Health and Environment, and two drawn from the Mountain Area Pregnancy Center's staff. The final CDOT/NHTSA grant of $50,000 will support "Jefferson County Motorcycle Rider Safety Education and Enforcement," a joint effort by Drive Smart and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Drive Smart's $23,000 share will, among other things, hire a liaison to the mountain area's two-wheeled community. "Motorcycle safety is a component that Drive Smart has lacked, and this will change that," Mohr says. "Since we're just getting this off the ground, the goal this year is to build a coalition of stakeholders in the community. Hopefully, local riders and local taverns will support what we're doing, so that next year we can implement the national "Green/Yellow/Red" motorcycle safety program." While certainly excited by Drive Smart's suddenly-broader horizons, Mohr's greatest satisfaction may stem from the simple fact that it qualified for the grants in the first place. "This is a milestone for Drive Smart," she explains. "To even be considered for the larger grants you have to be able to show that your programs are working, that you're reaching a broad segment of the community, and that your organization is self-sustaining. And we've done that. We've grown up, in a way. These grants are really quite a compliment." Taken together, the federal boosts should go a long way toward making mountain-area roads safer. Still, even as Drive Smart's paid contingent increases and its purpose expands, so the need for unpaid hands and local generosity will necessarily grow apace. "We still make our money in $10 and $20 donations, and our volunteers are still our most important asset." To learn more about Drive Smart Evergreen/Conifer, or to apply for the available positions, visit www.drivesmarte-c.org.