OCCUPATION: President and founder of Focus Driven, a national nonprofit advocating for cell phone-free driving
PERSONAL STATS: As a real estate agent, Jennifer, a single mom of two (Emani, 14, and Nevaeh, 3), conducted most of her business from her car, wheeling and dealing with clients on her hands-free cell phone device. When news about dangerous driving and cell-phone use got airplay, the Oklahoma native says she thought, “Get over it and get a hands-free!” But after her mother died (her car was T-boned in 2008 by a distracted driver who admitted he was on his cell), Jennifer changed her perspective. Her family’s painful loss sparked her desire to advocate for “no-phone zones” in cars across the nation, and she founded Focus Driven in January of this year. Since, Jennifer snagged an interview with Oprah (on a show that aired in January) to help educate others about her cause.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU: “When my mother died, I … tried my best to understand what had happened. I began researching … I learned it doesn’t matter where your hands are [when talking on the phone]; it’s where your head is.” And, “There really was no other organization for me to go to for support and to meet other victims’ families. That has been a huge drive behind [starting Focus Driven]—just to get our loved one’s story told, so people can understand the true dangers [of talking on the phone while driving].”
THE SKINNY ON OPRAH: [She laughs.] “She had some really nice shoes! Seriously, though, what Oprah has done for Focus Driven is incredible—it’s catapulted our advocacy across the states. Originally, Oprah’s team had planned to do a show about texting and the dangers of driving; after we talked prior to filming, I helped explain to the team that it’s so much bigger than that. And she’s really stepped up her own advocacy for the cause.”
THE ONE THING YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF: “The type of launch we had—the Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood announced the founding of Focus Driven at a national press conference in Washington, D.C. in January. Having the DOT’s support was thrilling, as was the national response to our cause. I’m also incredibly proud of the momentum we’ve built around this issue—we’ve really come so far. The attention of legislators makes me really proud, as well.”
FOCUS DRIVEN’S GREATEST STRUGGLE: “Pointing out that the laws that [only address] banning hand-held cell phones [and allowing hands-free devices] are just simply not enough. There are many mixed messages out there … research shows that just having a conversation is enough to dangerously distract your focus.”
YOUR WORKDAY: “It goes from getting the kids up, taking them to school and day care and then coming home to work at my computer and on my phone. I work with board members across the United States, so I’m on conference calls all day. There are also weeks when I’m juggling my daughter’s volleyball tournaments and then running to the airport late on a Sunday night to travel and show the group’s support for some of the recent legislation targeting cell-free driving.”
DAUGHTERS’ VIEW OF YOUR ADVOCACY: “My daughters are incredibly supportive. I couldn’t do it without them. This experience has really changed my relationship with my oldest daughter; it’s made her grow up so much faster. She sees that, by telling her grandmother’s story, she can change people. My youngest daughter is just as strong in her advocacy.
HOW YOU STAY FOCUSED: “When times get hard, and they do, I focus on staying busy. One of the things I do with Focus Driven is reach out to other families who’ve lost a loved one. Those are the hardest conversations. For the most part, I’ve accepted that my mom’s gone … But there are days that it’s hard to talk about what happened to her; yet I see how her story is changing others and I know it’s worth it.”
STRATEGY FOR WORK-LIFE BALANCE: “I take life day by day, especially with the fast pace of Focus Driven’s growth.”
GOALS YOU STILL AIM TO FULFILL: “I want people to just put the phones down while they drive. It’s just that simple. Slow down and realize that phone call can wait.”