Safe Kids Madison Area Earns Child Passenger Safety Award
Madison, Wisconsin - Nicole Vesely really didn't want to attend the Wisconsin Governor's Conference on Highway Safety earlier this year.
The 38th annual event was held in late August in Wisconsin Dells and Vesely, the coordinator of the Safe Kids Madison Area Coalition, had just returned from a national conference in Florida.
But conference organizers and her supervisor, Nan Peterson, encouraged Vesely to make the hour-long trip north to Chula Vista Resort.
"I became an instructor this year for child passenger safety, so they said I really should come get my plaque for that," Vesely recalled. "And my boss said, 'Yeah, I really think you should go.' "
An ulterior motive became clear when Vesely listened to the description of the winner of the annual Child Passenger Safety Award - and recognized it as the one she runs.
"I didn't realize it until they were reading the numbers during the award ceremony," she said. "The Wisconsin Governor's Conference is not just child passenger safety, it's all law enforcement, so it's a very big conference. It was very cool to win the award.
"I oversee the program, but it's this huge group of people that makes it work."
Vesely joined Safe Kids Madison Area six years ago as a car seat specialist, so it's no surprise the group - which is backed by American Family Children's Hospital - has an award-winning child passenger safety program.
Safe Kids Madison Area holds car seat checks once a week, with events in Madison twice a month and two others in communities around Dane County. That means 52 to 54 child passenger safety events each year, with an average of 25 to 30 families attending each week.
"That's a huge undertaking in and of itself," said Vesely, whose group checks roughly 1,200 car seats per year.
"In comparing it to other programs around the state, a lot of coalitions will only do one or two events a year, or they might do one a month. So to do it to the magnitude our program has done it, you really have to have things run smoothly. ... Our system works really well."
That starts with Vesely.
For each of those weekly car seat checks, she lines up eight to 10 technicians who check the seats and help parents learn how to properly install seats in their cars. Most of the volunteers come from the public safety community - including the UW-Madison Police Department, the Dane County Sheriff's Office, the City of Madison Fire Department and the Fitchburg Fire Department.
"They are awesome; they have been wonderful to us," Vesely said of the local police and fire departments, who also donate their stations to host the events.
In addition to educating parents, Safe Kids Madison Area - one of 15 chapters and coalitions across the state - also provides approximately 500 new car seats per year to low-income families.
Safe Kids Madison Area also has been a leader in child passenger safety ideas. In 2011, the group partnered with AAA and Kohl's Department Store to hold a car seat recycling day.
"I think we collected like 250 seats the first year. And we recycled them, we didn't just throw them away," Vesely said. "We're a very green area - a lot of people don't want to throw away car seats and have them sit in a landfill. So this was a way to let families know that as much as could be recycled on a seat, we would do our best.
"It went so well that the state (Safe Kids groups) wanted to do it as a group. So we all did it as a group together this year."
Vesely also has worked hard to get the word out every spring and summer that people shouldn't purchase car seats at garage sales because there's no way to know if they have been involved in an accident.
"It's fine if you know the history of (the seat)," Vesely said of purchasing used car seats. "But a lot of people don't realize that there's no way for us to check if it's been in a crash. We get calls all the time from families - 'I bought this seat at a garage sale, can you check and see if it's safe to use?' I can't."
And thanks to Safe Kids Madison Area, anyone in the county always has a resource if they have questions about car seats: (608) 890-8999.
"There is one general phone number that any family in Dane County can call, whether they need a seat or if they want a seat checked," Vesely said. "It's become a very simplified, easy program."
Vesely, who has two young children, is thrilled to be able to help keep kids as safe as possible.
"We are so lucky to have such amazing programs in our county and our communities," she said.
Date Published: 12/13/2012