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Driving Awareness Group Makes an !mpact on Local Teens

!mpact provides education for teenagers in West Hartford and throughout the area on the dangers of impaired, distracted and irresponsible driving.

!mpact, an educational non-profit organization focused on preventing accidents, injuries and deaths caused by inexperienced drivers, is growing in Connecticut and into other states in New England.

!mpact (an acronym for Mourning Parents Act), provides driver education programs at high schools across the state and has recently expanded into Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The group also provides programs for parents, school faculty and staff and law enforcement officers. !mpact advocates for legislation that benefits teen drivers, their passengers and other motorists and protects against accidents caused by inexperienced drivers.

A major distinguishing factor for !mpact is the very personal nature of its presentations. The group has grown in the nine years since its formation from the mothers and an aunt of three teens killed in accidents in Glastonbury only 11 days apart in December 2002 to almost 20 volunteers. Each of the volunteers — from mothers and fathers to grandparents and young people who have been in serious or fatal crashes themselves — have been personally and deeply affected by fatal accidents.

“We’re very personal,” said Sherry Chapman, co-founder and president of !mpact, whose son Ryan Ramirez died in one of the fatal accidents in late 2002. “We don’t preach, we share.”

The group reaches out to teens with a multimedia presentation where !mpact volunteers share their stories, show a memorial video of young people who have died in car accidents and then provide facts about inexperienced driving, including what happens to the human body in an accident. Presenting emotional and informational content both verbally and through video helps reach all attendees, regardless of how they best process information.

“The key is to be real,” Chapman said.

By the time many students leave the presentation, which is given at no cost to high schools that request it, they’ve learned that they don’t want to fall victim to the disastrous consequences of distracted, impaired or irresponsible driving.

“Our programs are very emotional,” Chapman said, noting that both presenters and attendees often shed tears during the event. “You get the truth, and the truth isn’t pretty.”

!mpact’s reach is demonstrable, as it has presented to 40 high schools in the past school year and reached approximately 35,000 students, including . Chapman said one way she knows that the group has reached young people is when they approach her after presentations.

“We’re convinced we make a difference,” she said.

The group has also advocated for Connecticut’s graduated license program, which was instituted in its most current form in 2008. That program limits the hours during which new drivers can operate a car, limits the number of passengers in the vehicle and restricts the use of any electronic devices.

!mpact, along with the DMV, Travelers, and other local organizations recently helped sponsor a statewide , and teams from Hall High School were awarded with third and fourth place prizes for their submissions.

The fourth annual !mpact golf tournament, called Tee Off for Teen Driving Safety, begins at 9 a.m. Friday at Avon’s Blue Fox Run golf course. It is the group’s only yearly fundraiser.

While the tournament is full, a tax-deductible donation to the non-profit 501(c)(3) group can be made by to !mpact, P.O. Box 599, Coventry, CT, 06238. Those interested in donating can also contact President Sherry Chapman directly at 860-209-7070. !mpact welcomes new volunteer members.

For more information about !mpact, visit its website.

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