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Roland Martin (Host of New One Now), Jim Colon (Vice President, African-American Business Strategy, North America, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.), Dr. Victor Garcia (Founder of the Buckle Up for Life Program), Michael Fisher (President and CEO of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center), Wil James (President, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky Inc.) during the 10th Anniversary Reception, hosted by Toyota, in Cincinnati on July 24 2014

Toyota is the world’s top automaker. One of their slogans is “Let’s Go Places.” The automaker takes the consumer places with a full line of Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles.

Toyota also takes communities to a safe place, a place where community partnerships are helping to save the lives of many children. Why? “We want people to be safe,” said James Colon, Vice President of African American Business Strategy at Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. “It just makes sense.”

Every four seconds, a child is treated for an injury in an emergency department. One of the leading causes of death of children under 12 is motor vehicle crashes. No one knows that better than Dr. Victor Garcia, Founding Director of Trauma Services at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading pediatric hospitals.

Being a pediatric surgeon in the trauma services, Dr. Garcia has seen a lot of children suffering from car crashes where they were not properly buckled up. He said he wanted to find a way that children would not need his services. In 2004, Dr. Garcia and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital partnered with Toyota to create “Buckle Up for Life,” a national education program for families to help keep child passengers safe.

While “Buckle Up for Life” aims to protect all children, it began as a program that served the needs of the Hispanic and African American Communities, working with children’s hospitals and community organizations such as churches to provide motor vehicle safety information to parents and caregivers. According to studies, Hispanic and African-American children are as much as 10 times less likely to be buckled up in seat belts or car seats, putting them at a greater risk in motor vehicle crashes.

The goal of “Buckle Up for Life,” is to help save lives by educating families about child safety. Since its inception in 2004, it has educated more than 17,000 individuals nationwide and provided funding for more than 40,000 car seats for families in need. This is important as studies show that approximately 50 percent of fatally injured children were unrestrained at the time of the vehicle crash. Dr. Garcia said the program is not about blame, it is about addressing a problem and fixing it.

He said “Buckle Up for Life” works with local children’s hospitals, organizations and churches to address the economic, cultural and where appropriate, language barriers to motor vehicle safety. Over a six-week period, medical experts and trained spets work closely with participants to provide vital safety information. The participants are eligible for free car seats and certified child passenger safety technicians work with them to install the seats to ensure their children are properly restrained.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, proper use of seat belts, child safety seats and booster seats can significantly prevent vehicle-related injuries and fatalities.

Dr. Garcia praised the involvement of Toyota. He said without the automaker’s partnership, the program would not be a success. “I am grateful to Toyota,” he stressed. According to Dr. Garcia, research showed that car crashes are one of the leading causes of children’s injuries and deaths. He said he wanted to do something to help prevent the tragedies. That is where the “Buckle Up for Life” idea was born. He said he knew he could not do it alone, so he took his idea and research to Toyota.

Michael Fisher, President and CEO, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, also praised Toyota. He said it was through the partnership and the strong commitment of Toyota that the program has been a success. “We are working hard to make the program even better,” he said.

Fisher joined the hospital in January of 2010. Although he was not on staff at the time of the program’s inception, he is deeply committed to addressing issues of importance to the Greater Cincinnati area. One of his priorities is reducing the area’s high rate of unintentional injury and infant mortality.

According to Colon, through Dr. Garcia’s efforts, the hospital operated the pilot for the “Buckle Up for Life.” He said although cars and trucks today are safer than ever, research still shows that motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death for children in the U.S. in part because of the lack of or non use of safety equipment such as car seats, booster seats and seat belts.

Colon is a father and he said the program has become his passion. Although his children are teens now, he said he can remember how important it was to make sure they were safe while riding in cars. He praised Dr. Garcia for his vision and thanked him for trusting Toyota with it.

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of “Buckle Up for Life,” Toyota sponsored a reception at the National Urban League Conference in Cincinnati on July 24, 2014 at the Great American Ballpark, home of the Cincinnati Reds. The reception honored Dr. Garcia for his role as visionary of the life saving program.

In front of the large group gathered in his honor, Dr. Garcia talked about the success of the program. He said the program has operated in eleven cities across the country and their goal is to add three cities per year. The eleven cities include Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Memphis, Chicago, Phoenix, Houston, Philadelphia, Orange County and San Antonio.

With all that Dr. Garcia has accomplished with “Buckle Up for Life,” he said he is not done yet. “This is not the final version,” he said. “Come back in 10 years. . .” His vision is to have the program active in “every city, every neighborhood and every community.

A man with a purpose, Dr. Garcia recognizes the value of partnerships between corporations and communities and how these partnerships can solve many of society’s problems. His style is to identify the problem, form a partnership and work to develop a solution. His solution to the problem of children’s trauma and fatalities from car crashes is “Buckle Up for Life.” The 10 year success of the program is proof positive that it works!