In 18 Years, Program has Reached 55,000 High School Students
Cara Erickson shares her story with teens attending the annual ThedaCare P.A.R.T.Y. (Prevent Alcohol and Risk Related Trauma in Youth) at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center to help them avoid the same mistake she did: driving while intoxicated.
“Teens think they are indestructible. I know I did,” said Erickson, who was convicted in 2000 of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle after the pick-up truck she was driving hit another vehicle, killing one person and seriously injuring a second. “I want teens to understand that just doing something one time can change your life forever.”
P.A.R.T.Y. at the P.A.C. is a reality-based education program for area high school students put on by the Trauma Center at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah and sponsored by the ThedaCare Family of Foundations. More than 5,600 students from 39 area high schools – the most to-date – are scheduled to attend performances on Thurs., Oct. 13, and Fri., Oct. 14.
Erickson, who served 15 months in jail and was placed on probation for 15 years following her conviction, said students really respond to hearing the personal stories shared at P.A.R.T.Y. “I want teens to think ahead and have them realize if they’re planning to drink that they need to have a plan on how to get home. I also want people to speak up and not get into a car with someone who is drinking,” she said. “I tell them my poor decision destroyed three families – the families of the two victims and my own family.”
Ray Georgen, MD, trauma medical director at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah, said P.A.R.T.Y. shows high school students the consequences of making poor choices when behind the wheel.
“P.A.R.T.Y. at the P.A.C. is different than anything else these students have seen,” said Dr. Georgen, who serves as emcee of the event with Kevin Wilkinson, chief of the Neenah Police Department. “Teens hear about making good decisions at school and at home, but here they are taken as close as possible to an actual situation. Hearing it live and in person is very powerful.”
Dr. Georgen has participated in every P.A.R.T.Y. since ThedaCare launched it in 1998 at the P.A.C. By the time this year’s event is over, the program will have reached more than 55,000 area teens. He said it’s important to reach out to this age group since teens and young adults aged 15 to 24 have the greatest incidence of trauma injury and death.
“The message shared with teens at P.A.R.T.Y. is vital. Everyone thinks ‘it can’t happen to me,’ but it can,” Dr. Georgen said. “While the stories we share at P.A.R.T.Y. change every year, the message is the same: teens need to make good choices when they get behind the wheel.”
Dr. Georgen said P.A.R.T.Y. at the P.A.C. empowers young people to make informed, safe choices by shedding light on the dangers of risk-taking behaviors, their life-altering outcomes, and the importance of personal responsibility. “There’s so many topics we touch on – always wearing a seatbelt, don’t drink and drive, and now don’t text and drive,” he said. “They may sound very different, but they are all about making good decisions.”
A Canadian hospital developed P.A.R.T.Y. in 1986 to educate teens about the perils of dangerous, risk-taking behaviors and the tragic consequences that can result from them. Dangerous behaviors now addressed in the program include drinking and driving, not wearing a seatbelt and texting while driving.
High schools participating in one half-day event include Amherst, Appleton East, Appleton North, Appleton West, Berlin, Bonduel, Brillion, Chilton, Clintonville, Fox Valley Lutheran, Freedom, Hilbert, Horace Mann (North Fond du Lac), Hortonville, Kaukauna, Kimberly, Little Chute, Lourdes, Manawa, Menasha, Neenah, New Holstein, New London, Omro, Roncalli (Manitowoc), St. Mary Catholic, St. Mary’s Springs Academy (Fond du Lac), Shawano, Shiocton, Stockbridge, Tri-County, Valders, Valley Home School Group, Valley New School, Weyauwega-Fremont, Wild Rose, Winneconne, Wisconsin Academy and Xavier.
In addition to Dr. Georgen, Wilkinson and Erickson, other presenters include David Schultz, MD, FACS; Phillip Yazbak, MD, FAANS, FACS; Judge Gregory Gill; Erica Geschrei, Darcy Scheer; Pakou Xiong; Zach Romnek; ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton Emergency Department; Catalpa Health; City of Neenah Police Department; Corrina De Groot; Fox Cities Performing Arts Center & Volunteers; Gold Cross Ambulance Services; Karl Greene, MD; Amy Houlihan; Jeff Lendrum Photography; John’s Towing of Neenah; Lisa McGinnis; NorthCoast Productions; Oshkosh Police Department; Outagamie County Health Department; Jeffery Roehrig; David Schultz, MD; ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah’s Emergency, Respiratory Therapy, Safety and Security and Trauma Services Departments; ThedaStar Air Medical; Village of Fox Crossing Fire Department; Village of Fox Crossing Police Department; Winnebago County Health Department; Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department; Wisconsin State Patrol; and WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety.
Funding for this year’s P.A.R.T.Y. at the P.A.C. comes from: graduate sponsors – the 2016 Lamers Racing Driving Experience, which is sponsored by Commercial Horizons Inc., McMahon Associates Inc., and Faith Technologies Inc., AAA Wisconsin and BMO; senior sponsor – Bergstrom Automotive; junior sponsor – SECURA Insurance; sophomore sponsors – Community First Credit Union, Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, Surgical Associates of Neenah, S.C and the John J. and Ethel D. Keller Donor Advised Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region; freshman sponsors – Gold Cross Ambulance Service, Kaldas Center for Fertility Surgery & Pregnancy, S.C. and Menasha Corporation Foundation; and contributing sponsors – Shopko Foundation and Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction.
For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,800 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 34 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service. The ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center in Appleton opened in February. For more information, visit www.thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.