Where it all began…
In May 2016, I graduated from Evangel University with a triple major in Spanish, English, and Biology. Despite the extensive number of courses that I took during my time in college, I never once took a single business class. So what am I doing, five months after graduation, as the executive director of a startup non-profit that my friend and I started? Well that’s quite a story.
It was January of 2015, and my friend Jami, who I had known since my freshman year, invited me out to a local coffee shop so that we could catch up. She was an English education major, and we both worked together at the writing center on campus. She was sipping her drink—coffee in name only, as there was probably more milk and sugar in it than anything else, and I, a hard-core tea enthusiast, was enjoying my green tea. We talked about classes and clubs that were both involved with, but somehow, the conversation turned to the topic of drunk driving.
It was a topic that I had recently become extremely passionate about. Before coming to college, I had thought about it very little; I saw the videos that we all saw growing up—in driver’s education class I had seen all the informational videos and all the video campaigns against drunk driving, and I naively assumed that it was a given, a known fact, that driving while intoxicated was stupid, irresponsible, and I thought because of that, it was not widespread, especially among people I know. Boy was I wrong. I told Jami how since coming to college I had heard comments from friends, coworkers, or peers like “oh, I only had five drinks last night. I was totally okay to drive home” or “Well, I had no other way of getting home, and it turned out fine in the end.” Those comments shocked and terrified me. The fact that people I knew were weekly risking ruining not only their own lives but also the lives of other drivers on the road was a rude awakening. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before something went terribly, horribly wrong.
Jami agreed, and she told me about a safe ride program that one of her friend’s from high school was involved with at the University of Missouri, called STRIPES. The program offered free rides home to students on the weekend who were intoxicated or in otherwise unsafe situations. The program was hugely successful at the University of Missouri and had undoubtedly saved lives during its more than decade in operation. Jami told me about how wildly popular the program was, and then she asked the question, “why doesn’t Springfield, an overwhelmingly college-town, have a program like that?” I shrugged and said that it would probably be a good idea. And then unexpectedly, Jami made a statement that would shape the rest of my time in college and even after. She said,
“we could start a program like that.”
I laughed. Any reasonable person would. I was majoring in anything but business, and she was destined to become a middle school teacher. We had no business entering into the world of non-profit business. And yet, Jami persisted, and the next day, she told me that she was taking the idea to Dr. Spence, head of the leadership program at Evangel and son of Dr. Robert Spence, who had been the president of Evangel for forty years. What Dr. Spence did when Jami came to him with the idea was crucial; he believed in her and in her vision. Dr. Spence became the first follower, and he helped start a movement.
With her first follower behind her, Jami came back to me, full of energy and full of ideas. Her excitement was contagious, and I was onboard. Two weeks later, Jami and I were on our way to a national safe ride program conference in College Station, Texas, paid for by Evangel.
We had no idea what kind of crazy ride we were in for.