You've seen the commercial, I'm sure. A father spent four weekends building a treehouse for his children only to find them playing cards and watching DVDs in the family's Toyota minivan. They're oblivious to his excitement, telling him, "We're good here" and return to their card game as the father closes the van door and walks dejectedly away.
This is so wrong on so many levels. I don't even know where to start.
I could talk about ungrateful, privileged kids who should have spent the last four weekends helping their dad build a treehouse. I could talk about the spineless dad who should put a stop to such disgraceful behavior, not slink away as if he's been properly chastised.
But what I really want to talk about is the danger these kids, all kids as a matter of fact, face when they're left alone in cars.
In 2007, the same year this commercial initially aired, I attended an Optimist International convention in Montreal, Quebec. It's a beautiful city with an old-world feel to it. People were gracious and friendly. We were there during the annual Jazz Festival and I marveled at the happy, well-mannered crowds with scarcely a gendarme in sight.
If my evenings were filled with music, my days were filled with workshops. I attended lectures on fundraising, growing membership and suggestions for community projects. In between sessions, I gravitated to what was called the "House of Optimism." It was actually an enormous trade show where attendees could purchase club logo items and supplies.
One section of the arena was devoted to programs that were seeking help and support from Optimist Clubs. There were therapeutic camps, homework help programs, reading programs and child safety programs.
I was drawn to a table where several women were handing out bumper stickers and key chains for a program called Harrison's Hope. It's aimed at educating parents, caregivers, entire communities about the dangers to children who are left alone in and around automobiles.
One woman I spoke with was particularly passionate in talking about the goals of the group. She pressed some pamphlets and a bundle of posters into my hands and thanked me for any help our club could provide.
It was only later that I realized I had been speaking with Michelle Struttmann, the group's founder and mother of Harrison, the organization's namesake.
In 1998, Michelle was critically injured and her toddler son, Harrison, was killed when two children, left unattended in a van (sound familiar?) knocked the vehicle into gear, causing it to roll over the Struttmans.
Following her recovery, Michelle and her husband, Terrill, devoted their lives to preventing similar accidents. "We are truly on a mission to save lives," says Michelle in her media material. "And we need people to take this information to heart and put it to use with their families and in their neighborhoods. Children are our most precious cargo — they should never be left alone in or around a vehicle."
Every summer we hear of children being left alone in hot cars. Sometimes they are discovered in time to be saved. Sadly, sometimes they are not. Most of us know better than to leave a child alone in a car. But how many of us are aware of the danger in simply leaving a car unlocked on our own driveway? I know the thought had not occurred to me until I read the Harrison's Hope material.
Since 1999, the Struttmans have worked tirelessly to get the word out about keeping kids safe around cars. Terrill Struttman writes: "The Zero Seconds Program encourages a mindset that even one second is unsafe. With today's lifestyle, we are constantly pushing time limits, stretching every second so we can get our to-do list done. Our goal with the Zero Seconds Program is to get everyone to change their behavior, slow down and be mindful of their child's safety. Zero seconds equals zero incidents."
Harrison's Hope has put together service projects for clubs complete with public service announcements, posters and certificates for businesses that offer curbside service so parents won't be tempted to leave children unattended "just for a minute."
Sadly, I don't think I've ever heard a Harrison's Hope PSA. I have, however, heard and seen that obnoxious Sienna commercial, the one with the kids playing in the van, countless times in the last two years.
That boneheaded commercial negates much of the message the Struttmans have worked so hard to deliver. It makes a vehicle look like a playhouse on the driveway.
I think Toyota owes Harrison's Hope a huge, very public apology. A hefty check would be nice, too. Say, one equivalent to the cost of that ad campaign?
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears regularly and on gainesvilletimes.com.