FOCUS by ThedaCare Provides Prevention Education to Teens


Written by Philomena Dorobek, Brand Storyteller
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center
On October 5-6, 2022, 32 local high schools attended four performances of FOCUS, a program and moving presentation hosted by ThedaCare which highlights the consequences of participating in at-risk behaviors and empowering students to make wise choices while driving. FOCUS stands for Focus on driving, Others are affected, Clear distractions, Understand that substances impair judgment, Safely reach your destination. I sat down with a few people involved with the program including Kathi Hegranes, the Program Coordinator for FOCUS, former attendee, Corinna C. who provided a testimony of her experience after watching the educational presentation and FOCUS Volunteer Speaker Brooke Wedeward.

As a Program Coordinator for FOCUS, Kathi’s role is to prevent people from coming into the Trauma Center. Although this program may resonate with people of all ages regarding the dangers of driving distracted or impaired, its primary focus is on high school sophomores who are new or soon-to-be drivers. The presentation features speakers who share their life experience from the perspective of hospital staff, police officers, fire fighters, paramedics and those involved in motor vehicle accidents.
To help reduce the number of car accidents caused by teen drivers, Kathi looks for ways to change attitudes and actions that are considered risky when getting behind the wheel. “ThedaCare’s trauma program works to prevent injury and build better health through a variety of community programming. One of our largest outreach programs is the FOCUS Program with the goal that everyone arrives safety at their destination when driving or riding in a vehicle,” Kathi stated.
FOCUS is a 2021 rebrand of the formerly known trauma program, Prevent Risk-Related Trauma in Youth (PARTY). This program began in 1998 as a hospital tour that focused on drinking and driving. With car crashes being the leading cause of unintentional teen injury and death, ThedaCare’s Trauma Center felt it was necessary to address the growing issue and focus on educating the communities to prevent such unnecessary and regrettable outcomes. That first year reached 240 students, and the program has only grown since then.
Once the program outgrew its space at ThedaCare in 2005, it was held at both ThedaCare – Neenah Hospital and the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center until it remained exclusively at the Fox Cities P.A.C. in 2008. An average of 6,000 high school students attend the program annually. To date, more than 91,000 local teens have been reached through this educational prevention program. “If there is one thing I’ve learned over my past 10 years of organizing FOCUS, is that we are working on generational transformation. We’re pleased that we’ve managed to impact and change attitudes toward drinking and driving over the years,” Kathi remarked.
Though Kathi is pleased with the success of the program, she acknowledged that new challenges arise. This requires the program to evolve beyond presenting on drinking and driving to cover additional current and relevant challenges such as new substances, distractions and technologies. Having the collaboration between ThedaCare and the Fox Cities P.A.C. makes the educational experience possible and adds to it.
Kathi shared, “Every year we tell the teens – if we convince just one of you to change your behavior, to plan ahead and to drive safety, we’ve reached our goal.” This is even more relevant as Kathi informed me that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional teen death.
Nearing their 25th Anniversary of their program, ThedaCare has reached at least one person. Corinna C. saw the FOCUS program in 2014 when it was PARTY at the PAC. She commented, ““Don’t drink and drive” was something I had heard so many times before, and I had almost become numb to it, as had so many other new drivers and teens around that age, which is exactly why it was so impactful to not just hear the words but to see them play out. It made the words and warnings real.” She shared how she and her friends take the necessary precautions to avoid drinking and using their phones while driving. “This program was a big part of my foundation for safe driving, and I’m proud of our community for keeping it around.” 
Another person all too familiar with the consequences of not taking time to ensure safe driving conditions is FOCUS Volunteer Speaker, Brooke Wedeward. In January of 2013, Brooke got in a car crash that caused another person to suffer injuries that led them to being in a wheelchair. In the presentation, Brooke reflects on her own experience, expressing the regret of not pulling over when she couldn’t see due to the sun shining and the fogginess of her windows. Brooke shared, “No matter how late you’re running, what you have going on in your life, it’s important to take those few extra seconds.”
Brooke’s thoughts reflect FOCUS’ message of taking the time to plan things in advance and to avoid multitasking while driving. Kathi expressed some final thoughts about returning to the in-person prevention programming: “We are grateful to return to our in-person crash prevention education with the Fall 2022 FOCUS program. We are committed. We’re in it for the long haul to positively impact our teens, their families and the community as a whole.”
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