Sixteen teams will compete in the CAID Day at the Park tournament. The event will also feature auctions and a Kids’ Zone.
The future looked bright for Karen Kwiatkowski. A sports medicine major at St. Bonaventure University, Karen had just been named as trainer to the school’s softball team. It was an unheard of achievement for a freshman.
Then one night Karen was out with a friend when a drunk driver slammed into their car, ending a life that was full of potential.
“She was less than a month away from her 19th birthday,” recalled her sister, Deanna Russo, whose parents reside in Blasdell.
On the way to the hospital, paramedics were able to restart Karen’s heart three times before it finally gave out.
“That was Karen’s way of telling us ‘I’m not ready (to die) yet,’” Russo said.
But Karen did not have a choice. The drunk driver, however, did.
Since Karen’s death in 1998, Russo has been speaking to schools and community organizations across Western New York against drunk driving.
In 2007, Russo founded Crusaders Against Impaired Driving, Inc. to provide “quality anti-DWI education” as well as victims services for those whose lives have been impacted by drunk driving.
“I have tried to turn a negative into a positive,” said Russo, who added “If it wasn’t for the memory of her, knowing that she is with me and supporting me, I don’t know if I could do this.”
The atmosphere will be nothing but positive on Saturday, Aug. 11, when CAID hosts its fifth annual fundraiser, CAID Day At The Park, at Sunshine Park in West Seneca.
The event, which begins at 9 a.m., centers around a softball tournament, with 16 teams already registered. It is a one-pitch tournament, so games last around 30 to 45 minutes.
“It’s a really fun event,” said Russo. She explained that, as a softball player for both Mount Mercy Academy and the Town of West Seneca, Karen often played the diamonds at Sunshine Park.
Yet for those uninterested in playing or watching ball, CAID Day at the Park offers plenty of other activities. BW’s Smokin’ Barrels Barbecue will be available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
There will also be a Kids’ Zone, featuring face painting, a balloon artist and a coloring contest; a basket raffle; and a silent auction with the chance to win two round-trip tickets from Southwest Airlines. Other prizes include autographed memorabilia from the Goo Goo Dolls and the Buffalo Sabres, as well as Toronto Blue Jays baseball tickets and a ball autographed by Blue Jays slugger José Bautista.
Proceeds from the fundraiser benefit CAID initiatives, including paying for billboards to be put up around the holidays that remind people to drink responsibly.
“All of the money made stays in Western New York so we can focus on the problems that exist in our community,” Russo said. After sharing her sister’s story for the past 14 years, Russo is still astounded to see how many people are affected by drunk driving.
“You don’t realize how big a problem it is until you speak to people on the other side,” she said. “Drunk driving is a problem that doesn’t know a specific age. It affects everyone.”
Russo said she is not against drinking, but she implores those who do to make the right decision and avoid driving.
“Drunk driving is not a disease, it’s a choice one makes,” said Russo. “Now I have a 2-year-old daughter who only knows her aunt through pictures.”
When she talks to youth at events, Russo urges them to call their parents or guardian for help if they have been drinking, no matter how difficult the phone call might be to make.
“I tell (youth) that their parents would much rather get a phone call from you in the middle of the night than get the call that my parents got.”
For more information on CAID, including learning about how to volunteer for the organization, visit www.caidonline.com.