Amber Morales’ six children (left to right) Ethan, Skarlett, Brooklyn, Madysyn, Sianna and Kaleb posing for a Christmas photo. (Photo Courtesy of Amber Morales)

Monday, Nov. 13, is the international holiday – World Kindness Day, a time to show goodwill and decency to others. It’s also a time that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is asking drivers to operate their vehicles safely as they remember loved ones lost at the hands of a drunk driver.

The nonprofit organization recently held its Seventh Annual Teen Influencer Summit on Nov. 4 to promote mental health and prevent underage substance abuse. While the event has come and gone, MADD encouraged those who came to celebrate World Kindness Day in memory of Madysyn Garza, who was killed in a drunk driving crash along with her father and two of her siblings.

Amber Morales, Madysyn’s mother, is the MADD program coordinator in Kern County. She’s been working as a part of MADD since February, but was previously a victim volunteer for years, telling her story to others to convey how devastating a drunk driving crash can impact a survivor’s family.

“When I share my video, … I cry. You never really get over it,” Morales said. “I go through those moments every day, whether I’m talking about it or not talking about it. … My daughter would be 20 this month. It just never gets easier.”

On March 25, 2018, 14-year-old Madysyn was with her father, Adam Garza, older brothers Kaleb and Ethan and her half-sister Jordan traveling on Route 43 in Kern County when a drunk driver coming from the opposite direction collided with them head-on. Ethan was the sole survivor – his injuries included two broken femurs, a ruptured spleen, a collapsed lung, a broken wrist and a broken ankle.

Since then, Morales and her family have chosen to honor their memory on World Kindness Day, which also happens to be Madysyn’s birthday.

“It actually turned out perfectly fitting her because [she was a] total social butterfly, always supporting her friends,” Morales said. “She was always like, ‘How can I support you?’ and always trying to be involved in stuff and so it seemed just fitting that she was always trying to do something good for her friends.”

On that day, Morales hands out “Live Like Madysyn” cards printed with her daughter’s picture and story to strangers. She has done this almost every year, skipping one due to COVID-19.

“Sometimes, we give a little $5 gift card or just the card itself with a bracelet that we have because I had these bracelets made for Madysyn & Kaleb’s Keepers … that say, ‘Please don’t drive impaired’ and they have a butterfly and some music notes because my son was really into music,” Morales said. “He won the Semper Fidelis award for musical excellence, was in the honor choir and in the drumline and in three different band classes playing musical instruments. That was his thing.”

Morales wants to make sure that not only is the memory of those lost not forgotten but that others heed her warnings when they listen to her story. Almost immediately after the crash, she reached out to MADD and asked how she could help others by sharing her own story.

“I speak with teenagers when I do these presentations,” Morales said. “I’ll do five in a day and every period, I’m crying because the emotion behind it is something these kids need to see because they think they’re invincible and they’ll miraculously revive just like in a video game or something. … They need to hear the hard truth.”

The crash has left an indelible mark not only on Morales, but her three children. The eldest, 14-year-old Brooklyn Morales, is a teen influencer with MADD, even attending the organization’s summit this past weekend.

“She did a breakout session and she shared her point of view of her loss being a big sister and having to fill the shoes now that Mady is not here anymore,” Morales said. “She’s going to be older than Mady in a few days on the 17th. There’s always some sort of sadness with it.”

When asked how people could best honor Garza’s memory, Morales said people should be kind every day, not just on World Kindness Day, but also sharing her story to hopefully prevent similar tragedies from impacting other families.

“I just hope people think twice about what they’re doing before they do it because they can’t take it back.”