Last summer Frances Perkins Scholar Beatriz Fuentes's daughter Natalie DeLeon and her boyfriend were on their way to visit friends when the car she was riding in rolled over on Carew Street in Springfield. DeLeon was ejected from the car; she had just turned 21 and was not wearing a seat belt.
The fatal accident spurred Fuentes, who will graduate in 2007, and her two other daughters to form a group--"The Friends of Natalie"--to promote seat belt use. Working closely with the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts (BIA-MA), the group has launched a bilingual campaign to raise funds for billboards urging seat belt use and for a safety program in local schools.
Last month, the group held a fundraising dinner at the Greek Cultural Center in Springfield. Attended by more than 300 people, the event featured a spaghetti and meatballs dinner, a performance by Dazzles Dance Studio of Springfield, and a raffle--all generously donated by members of the community. More than $5,000 was raised for the seat belt awareness campaign. Arlene Korab, executive director of BIA-MA, spoke at the gathering, praising the mission and dedication of the group. She received loud applause when she announced that BIA-MA would provide the group's first billboard.
"I am so grateful for the help and support of so many people in the community and of the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts," Fuentes said. "If my daughter's tragedy can save lives and prevent brain injury, she will not have died in vain."
"There are so many instances where people needlessly suffer brain injury or are killed in car crashes because they were not wearing seat belts," Korab said. "Beatriz Fuentes' campaign to raise awareness in the Springfield area will most definitely save lives, and we are delighted that she is reaching out to the bilingual community."
BIA-MA, a private, nonprofit organization, provides support services to brain injury survivors and their families, offers programs to prevent brain injuries, and educates the public on the risks of irresponsible behavior and the impact of brain injury. The association also advocates for funding to support services for individuals with brain injury, supports legislation to prevent brain injuries, and collaborates on educational campaigns with state agencies and related associations, including the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Registry of Motor Vehicles, and Veterans Administration.
Contributions to Friends of Natalie can be made payable to the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts and sent to: Friends of Natalie, 1070 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA 01118.