From left are SFA Driving Jacks officers Recruitment/Retention Director Marcus Johnson, President Brittany Minchew and Community Relations Deputy Courtney Short. (Photo by Kelly Daniel)
SFA Driving Jacks - provide a safe ride
by Kelly Daniel, Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce Membership and marketing manager
SFA Driving Jacks turns five in January, and the community should join the celebration.
The student organization makes a big impact on Nacogdoches streets offering their service to all residents within the Nacogdoches loop, logging more than 13,000 safe rides that equate to “saved lives” according to Driving Jacks President Brittany Minchew.
Numbers provided by the Nacogdoches Police Dept. show 78 total DWIs were issued during the 2006 fall semester, before Driving Jacks went in to operation. The number of DWIs from the most recent record report from 2010 fall semester is a total of 39. That is a 50 percent decrease.
“In 2004, SFA student Amy Shields visited Texas A&M University in College Station and learned of the student-organized designated driver program there. Amy brought the idea back with her and wanted SFA to offer the same service,” Minchew said. “But on October 17, 2004, Amy was killed by a drunk driver on Hwy. 59 north.”
After Amy’s death, members of SFA Student Government Association created a subcommittee dedicated to the start of a safe ride program. In 2005 the group began an extensive application process, including filing for 501(c) 3 status. The first SFA Driving Jacks safe ride was given on Jan. 25, 2007.
The organization’s mission focuses on serving the community and requires dedication from the student members who willingly work Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., fall and spring semesters.
Working to finance the operation, increase community awareness and dispel myths is required, too. Along with the community service experience, Driving Jacks volunteers get a crash course in creative marketing and fundraising.
“A small group goes ‘Shielding’ around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday nights. They go bar to bar and pass out fliers, talk to the employees and business patrons. We also call it ‘doing the Nacogdoches shuffle,’ and we do it as a reminder to the community that we’re here if they need us,” Minchew said.
According to Minchew, the program costs $26,000 a year to operate. “Some think we are funded by students’ tuition, and that is not true,” she said. “We have received grants from the Nacogdoches Junior Forum and Enterprise Rent-A-Car that helped fund the budget, but sponsors such as our Platinum Sponsor Mr. Thomas Haisten have been life savers for Driving Jacks.”
Haisten, who is from Tomball and a member of the SFA class of 1992, became aware of Driving Jacks and has vowed to the group to do whatever he can to help them. “I lost a good friend from a drunk driver hitting and killing him. It happened on Old Tyler Road,” he said. “My friend’s sister told me about the organization about a year and a half ago. I thought about how much we needed that when I was an SFA student. More lives would have been saved.”
SFA Driving Jacks choose to be a Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce member for the networking and business community exposure benefits. Minchew said because the Driving Jacks provide the safe ride service to the community, not just to students, the chamber is a way to make contacts with business and community leaders. “It’s important to attend the events consistently to maintain a relationship,” she said.
Point A Media owner and 2011-12 chamber Chair-Elect Angela Wiederhold is a Driving Jacks supporter and has watched student volunteers work their way through chamber channels.
“Being active in the chamber affords the Driving Jacks many opportunities for networking and above all the gift of sharing their story one on one with other chamber members,” Wiederhold said. “Being active in the Chamber provides avenues to tell the Driving Jacks’ story and to share their mission with a large portion of the business community in a cost effective and personal way. Participation in chamber events like the Fourth Friday Luncheon membership meetings and Alive After Five mixers gives the Driving Jacks, like all members, a friendly, casual and affordable way to connect with people.”
Volunteering during the chamber’s Blueberry Golf Bash and Texas Blueberry Festival has put Driving Jacks and their mission in front of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people.
“At the golf bash, we can mingle with prominent people and the decision makers in the community,” Minchew said, “and it is a good opportunity for our members to get out and do community service.
Driving Jacks work with SFA Assistant Professor Linda Bond to give free rides to blueberry-picking tourists.
“The reason we coordinate and drive the shuttles to the pick-your-own blueberry farm during the blueberry festival is because we get face-to-face time with people,” she said. “So many travel to the festival from miles away, some from out-of-state. We can talk to them and whether or not they leave a tip, we’ve left a positive impression on them - that we’re decreasing drunk driving fatalities in Nacogdoches.”
Driving Jacks has won SFA’s Organization of the Year award four consecutive years and is advised by SFA Assc. Professor Carl Pfaffenberg. In the 2010-11 school year, they logged 19,000 hours of volunteer service in Nacogdoches. As president, Minchew states her goal is to reach a $50,000 bank balance so the organization may operate on endowment.
“They have to have their hearts in it to do all that they do,” Haisten said, “and it’s all for the message - there is a free, safe ride home.”
Go to DrivingJacks.com for operation details, mission statement, frequently asked questions and sponsorship opportunity or call 652-6600. SFA Driving Jacks are the chamber’s Member of the Month for September.