When Vivian Verdayes found out that her best friend died in an alcohol-related car accident, she decided that she was going to do her best to spare others from dealing with the same pain.
“I just want people to remember that they’re not invincible and their lives are in their hands,” said Verdayes, 20, of Westchester. “I want young people to break out of the cycle of partying and putting themselves and others at risk.”
In honor of her friend Kristin Rivera, who died May 13 at age 22, Verdayes contacted Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a nonprofit organization that seeks to stop drunk driving, as well as support those affected by it. With their support, she was able to kick start her own group: Friends Against Drunk Driving.
Verdayes began FADD in July and now, with the help of Facebook and Instagram, has more than 2,000 followers. The support group, which works with and is raising funds for MADD, reaches out to anyone who has lost a friend or loved one to an alcohol-related car accident.
“We want people to establish a go-to person,” she said. “Find someone that you can call when you find yourself in a bad situation.”
At its first meeting, in July, FADD offered food and beverages to about 40 attendees while they discussed future events, as well as ways of spreading awareness.
The group’s first meet-and-greet event, which will take place Saturday in Kendall, will have a live disc jockey and include face-painting for children, food trucks and a T-shirt launch.
Verdayes reached out to her best friend’s mother, Kelly Rivera, and the two have been working together on this project ever since.
Rivera, who teaches the fifth grade at Everglades K-8 Center in Westchester, talked about losing her only child.
“The pain of losing a child is indescribable and there are no words to even begin to have anyone understand,” Rivera said. “I want to take this situation and maybe help somebody else make better choices. If one person can say that they thought of FADD and made the right choice, then I’ll be really happy because at least one life was affected.”
One of the people who reached out to FADD is Florida International University student Grace Jorge.
Jorge, 22, is mourning the death of her best friend, Irina Reinoso, who was also 22 when she was killed in an alcohol-related accident Aug. 14. Jorge, who is majoring in psychology and hopes to go to law school, contacted Verdayes and let her know she wanted to be involved in FADD.
“She was my best friend, and I really had nowhere to go. I still feel like I’ll get a text or call from her.” Jorge said. “I figured I’d reach out to Vivian, and when I did, she gave me a long pep talk that really helped me, and I knew I had to get involved.”
Verdayes hopes she and others involved in FADD will eventually be able to visit schools and talk to students about the consequences of drinking and driving.
“I feel like the more people we can get to listen to us, the bigger the difference we make will be,” she said. “Nobody should have to go through this type of pain.”