By Sandra Padovani, Parachute Communications Specialist
On March 23, 2018, Odette’s son Thomas, then only 17, was hit by a drunk driver. The next day, he died of his injuries. It was in the wake of this tragedy that it became obvious – the need to save lives that could be spared, as the driving force behind an initiative to raise awareness about responsible driving.
For this mother of three who has spent most of her career in education, young people have always been a priority. She has been involved in various capacities for years, whether volunteering at her children’s school, or in her research work on early childhood as part of her collaboration with the government on health. For Odette, who is now a laboratory technician in schools, this is more than a job, it’s a reason to live. Going back to work after the death of her son was what saved her: “I needed to go back to my young people,” she confides.
At the heart of what she has always taught her own children is risk awareness and responsible driving, for ourselves and others: “I’ve always taught my kids about the dangers of drinking and driving, especially Thomas who had just gotten his licence. But since then, I realized that just talking about it with my own children was not enough.” According to Odette, it’s very important for young people to have fun. Thomas’s love of life was contagious, and he loved to bring people together, as his friends like to point out – but he was responsible and considerate of the consequences of his actions. The message: Talking to kids and leading by example is very important. Focusing on prevention rather than punishment – it’s not about increasing penalties for drivers, but preventing the irreversible from happening.
Aiming to raise awareness and empower elementary and secondary school kids, the initiative was introduced two years earlier in 2019 in the schools that Odette knows well and spread by word of mouth in Quebec. Starting in the month of October, prevention activities revolve around a collective art project in classes with volunteer teachers also taking part. Students envision and co-create a drawing with a strong slogan expressing what they think of impaired driving.
The two selected visuals – one from the elementary level and one from the secondary level – are announced the third week of March during National Impaired Driving Prevention Week – a timely date coinciding with the commemoration of Thomas’s death. The visuals are then printed on reusable shopping bags and distributed to the public during that same week. The idea is to spread the word and the bag to the next person, from one to another, so that the message on responsible driving is spread as widely as possible. Little by little, Odette hopes the project will gain momentum beyond the region and will extend further into the province of Quebec, reaching all the way to Montreal, where the initiative is starting to gain recognition.
Despite the difficulties, especially administrative constraints, funding, and even the COVID-19 pandemic which complicated things in 2020, Odette’s tireless motivation remains the same.
This year, for the third event, more than1,500 bags will be created. For the first time, the two visuals and slogans will be printed on both sides of the same bag, which was technically not possible before, and will result in double the distribution capacity! Parachute is pleased to share Odette’s story and her initiative with our networks as she joins us for the very first time for our National Teen Driver Safety Week (NTDSW). We will also be unveiling the selected creative in March 2022. Odette has more ideas and plans and is not looking to stop now!