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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 15, 2010
Mr. Frank goes to Washington
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND Edward Frank, who lately drives a Jeep with a replica of a missile on top, will do just about anything to raise awareness about the dangers of driving drunk.
The missile says, “A drunk driver is as dangerous as a misguided missile.”
Last night, he got attention of a different kind that may further his cause as well.
Frank was chosen from among seven Capital Region Jefferson Award winners to represent the area in a national awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. in June.
Frank said earlier that he was humbled to receive a Jefferson Award, and that he “accepted it with a tremendous amount of pride.”
The American Institute for Public Service, a not-for-profit, non-partisan foundation established in 1972, has a mission of furthering democracy by honoring volunteers for public service.
Two Guilderland residents were among the seven local medalists who were feted last night at the Century House Restaurant in Latham. They were chosen from among 25 nominees.
Both Frank and Tara Coons-Hulett are sending the same message safety first.
Coons-Hulett’s mission began in 2001, when she witnessed an accident on Western Avenue that left a pedestrian dead. It was furthered seven years later when her father was crossing Western Avenue on foot, and was struck by a car; he was left with a traumatic brain injury.
“I didn’t even know what a traumatic brain injury, or a TBI, was, and I had to do a lot of research to educate myself and my family,” Coons-Hulett said. Her father, who was hospitalized for 15 months, suffered from mood swings, memory loss, and speech problems.
“Someone with a TBI will never be the same person they once were. People do not realize how common this injury is,” said Coons-Hulett. She said her research informed her that five million people per year suffer traumatic brain injuries. Convinced that the community needed heightened awareness of the problem, Coons-Hulett founded an organization called Fishing for Hope, so named because her father was looking for a place to go fishing when he was hit by a car.
He had parked his car on one side of Western Avenue, near Dutch Manor Stable, and crossed the road to look at a pond; on the way back to his car, he was struck by a vehicle with a driver who did not see him.
In addition to raising awareness, Fishing for Hope raises money for the state’s Brain Injury Association. Working with the mayor of Albany, Jerry Jennings, Coons-Hulett established Aug. 25 her father’s birthday as Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Day in Albany. In 2008, she held a press conference and fund-raiser on that date at Six Mile Waterworks off of Fuller Road, and she is planning a bigger event for this year. She hopes that the public service award will garner even more attention for her cause.
Watching someone with a brain injury become a different person is hard, and requires a lot of patience, said Coons-Hulett. Her father, who used to baby-sit her two children while she worked, and loved to fish and hunt, can no longer be left alone with the kids and is not allowed to hunt or drive, although he did recover a lot of his memory. He just returned home in January to live with his wife.
Through the Fishing for Hope organization, Coons-Hulett has been able to meet other TBI survivors, and caregivers, and has received a lot of support.
“Even the survivors have encouraging words. It’s nice to know that you’re not alone,” she said.
Calling herself a “daddy’s girl,” Coons-Hulett said that forming Fishing for Hope has been a big part of her own healing process, and that she will continue to do more research every day.
Speaking out is not new to Coons-Hulett. The Enterprise first profiled her in 2001 when, as a teenager at Guilderland High School, she spoke out against relationship violence.
“Above all, people really need to be more aware of their surroundings. One step, one second, can change everything,” said Coons-Hulett.
Frank agrees. For years, he has been trying to relay that message that one second and one mistake can change a life.
He runs the Choices 301 program out of the Beacon of Hope building in Altamont. His mission is to promote safe driving.
Frank, who lives in Altamont, is a retired Colonie cop. His son and namesake also worked for the Colonie Police for 19 years before dying of bowel cancer in 2005. He was 45.
The younger Frank, who liked racing at Saratoga Speedway, had started a program to teach kids that speeding cars belonged only on a racetrack. The father-and-son team started a program to educate kids about the dangers of drunk driving, housed in a traveling trailer.
After his son died, Ed Frank carried on the program with a passion. Choices 301 is named after the younger Frank’s radio dispatcher number for his police work, which was also his racecar number.
Frank said his program covers many aspects, including the importance of seat belts, and the dangers of using a cell phone while driving, but he especially focuses on teenage drinking and driving.
Displays in the Choices 301 program consist of real pictures of drunk driving crashes. And hundreds of shoes are displayed to represent the number of people who have died in alcohol-related car accidents. He has 28-foot trailers outfitted with mock jail cells, and coffins with mirrors inside.
High school students visit the Beacon of Hope displays on field trips, and Frank travels with his trailers to local colleges, and to five other counties. He said he has heard students say that the displays were “a reality check.”
“This should be a 24/7 message, not just something students are smothered with around prom time,” said Frank. “This is about saving lives.”