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March, 2023

It's nearly 3 years since the mere moment of inattention that changed everything in mine and Jim’s lives in an instant! Although driving distracted wasn’t mentioned as a factor in the police report, there had to have been something upon which the 17-year-old driver was focusing his attention. And it wasn’t on the guy on the bicycle! Since there was no evidence whatsoever of the driver swerving or braking, I have to assume that he didn’t even know Jim was there until he slammed right into him!

It's truly amazing that Jim even survived that day! And the degree to which he was able to recover is nothing short of miraculous! But that certainly doesn’t negate the challenges we live with every single day. Very early on, I decided that my responsibility amid all this was to figure out how the demands and hardships of our situation could be used for good. If our story could positively impact others, then I needed to find ways to share it!

And so, VRUnm became first a dream, and then a reality! There is tremendous need for enhanced advocacy for those on our roadways who are at the greatest risk. “Vision Zero” and similar initiatives are making it clear that our nation has allowed roadway violence to get entirely out of control. A variety of organizations and individuals have gotten serious about how imperative it is to reverse the horrific trend of ever-increasing deaths and serious injuries attributed to motor vehicles in the US.

Obviously, the time was right to launch targeted efforts locally. However, the cost of filing fees and the other expenses related to a start-up required finances which we did not yet have. In response to a GoFundMe campaign in January, 2022, 18 “founding friends" demonstrated their confidence in what we were setting out to do by generously contributing the funds to allow us to get started!

Within the space of just a few weeks we were able to assemble all the required paperwork to incorporate as a non-profit organization in the state of New Mexico. Shortly thereafter, we received our 501©3 designation from the IRS, recruited a governing board, and opened a bank account. We were up and running! It became apparent that some of the things we had hoped to put in place “down the road” were going to work out far ahead of schedule. So, we were off!

Our board is comprised of myself, as Executive Director, plus 6 like-minded individuals, each with strengths that complement one another. We’ve followed opportunities as they have arisen, and many have led to more open doors. In order to focus our attention for the months ahead, we’ll meet for our first leadership retreat this weekend. The partnership with and dedication of these friends is key to the future success of our organization! Soon I plan to post short bios of each board member on our website; I’m eager to introduce you to these terrific folks who share my passion for VRUnm!

When we set up a table at community events, we find that our message resonates with a lot of people. In particular, we focus on our concern for vulnerable road users. The deaths and serious injuries of VRUs is something a lot of people have simply not given much thought to. Those who hear our message and determine to make safer choices are, quite literally, helping save their own lives and the lives of those they share the roadways with!

One effective exhibit at public events is our graffiti boards. We honor those who have lost their lives as well as providing a place for people to post their own messages. After reaching out to several friends for help constructing them, a “friend of a friend” thought perhaps her husband and sons could help. I’d never even met them, but the father and 2 boys shopped, constructed, and delivered 2 marvelous folding “walls”! They are well-built and solid, with some cool features that only an experienced carpenter would have thought of! We are grateful to have them for our exhibit table. Additionally, they demonstrate in a very tangible way how the influence of our organization is closely tied to friends, old and new, who share our vision and want to take part!

A while back, I was privileged to speak with a couple groups of soon-to-be drivers. Our story really got the young people's attention! Last Fall I reached out to Las Cruces Public Schools’ leadership, inquiring if it could be arranged for me to speak with some groups of Driver’s Education pupils. I was hoping we might be able to get something underway by the start of this calendar year. Imagine my surprise to be connected with a couple teachers who invited me to come to their classrooms as soon as possible!

Spending time with 13 groups of teens at 2 of our local high schools over the last several months has been transformational in my life! Their response has been both gratifying and humbling! I continue to fine-tune the presentation to make it communicate as strongly as possible. Hearing a real person’s story speaks powerfully to the students! They are all actively engaged when they hear the true life details of Jim’s and my experiences! We’re not simply statistics, numbers that one doesn’t fully comprehend. We’re real people to them, and that speaks loud and clear! The evaluation forms the students complete following the presentation have been extremely insightful. They have consistently ranked the effectiveness of the presentation very highly, saying that having heard it will influence their own choices as they take to the roads.

In the presentation, I challenge the students to make a commitment to themselves in 3 areas related to distracted driving. Last week, for the first time, I returned to a class I had visited 2 weeks earlier and invited them to make a safe driving commitment to themselves. The commitment is printed on the outside of a folded business card, and I encouraged them to write an agreement in their own words on the inside. 16 teens stepped forward and asked for commitment cards!

These kind of results have been so very motivating! Making the most of them will demand purposeful planning for the future. We are in the process of arranging visits to the other big high schools in town, as well as to several smaller private and “alternative” schools! AND we’ve had tentative inquiries from 2 nearby communities! We’re investigating the most effective ways to involve additional presenters and to increase the number of pupils we are able speak with. I anticipate that, like so many other things with VRUnm’s work, these plans will fall into place even sooner than anticipated!

An especially meaningful outcome of these presentations is that we have begun to gather a core group of teens who are eager to brings their time, gifts, and perspective to this work! Recruiting a group of teen advocates was on my “wish list”, but I never expected that to begin to fall into place almost immediately.

Another important aspect of our work is networking with those in Las Cruces and Dona Ana County who are, themselves, vulnerable road users. Cyclists of all types are active here. Groups are involved with our schools that promote wonderful safety programs for students who walk and ride.

Dedicated advocates attend meetings and work toward infra-structure that will better support riders, pedestrians, and others who wish to get around our community without a motor vehicle. The climate and lifestyle in our area are ideal for these activities, and VRUnm is honored to be a part of what that will look like going forward!

We are grateful to be the recipients of growing support from within our community! From the time the initial plans to form a non-profit began to fall into place, Citizen’s Bank of Las Cruces has come alongside to help finance some of what we have needed in order to take each next step. Their continued commitment is a huge encouragement to us!

Several months ago I shared what we’ve been doing with some personal friends and asked them to help us move forward. Some dear friends provided an influx of cash that allowed us to purchase the supplies needed for the student packets I hand-out at presentations. Those hand-outs are a valuable part of our outreach; we’re hoping, at some point, to have an individual or business that will completely fund that as their contribution to our work.

Just today I have been overwhelmed by the extraordinary generosity of an anonymous friend! I'd asked if they would consider funding one of three projects. I was speechless to receive word that they would like to fund all three projects! We are deeply appreciative! I've come to recognize that our cause is of such profound import that it draws benevolent attention to itself. Wow!

Right now we’re working on the details of multiple pop-up events for April, which is national Distracted Driving Awareness Month. These will provide opportunities to become better known in the community and to solicit helping hands. Also, we are fortunate to have a very experienced grant-writer who will be working with us to locate funding for the projects we’re hoping to put into place in the near future. I’ll look forward to sharing details about that in the next newsletter.

As you can see, it’s been a very productive first year for VRUnm, with a very promising future ahead! It would be a tremendous help and encouragement to us if you would help spread the word by sharing this newsletter, liking and sharing our Facebook posts, etc. Should you feel inclined to support our work financially, that is simple to do at the donations page on our website:

Until next time!

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