Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Deb Pollack of Drive Toward a Cure Is Helping To Change Our World

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The power of social media is not only about ‘likes’ on Instagram — realize that LinkedIn and the professional networks you align with can be equally as efficient while potentially providing more credibility than all the ‘likes’ you might gain on Instagram, not just in terms of raising awareness and revenue but gaining like-minded and enthusiastic volunteers.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”,I had the pleasure of interviewing Deb Pollack.

Deb Pollack is a car fan by nature and a brand champion by trade. Since 2009, she has served as publicist for automotive luxury brand and restoration house Singer Vehicle Design — the marque most recognized globally for celebrating the iconic air-cooled Porsche 911 — and has spent the better part of her professional career representing small companies with big names and big reputations — including Mitsubishi Motors, GM, Ferrari, and Maserati. However, she is also a philanthropist at heart, and for the past decade Deb has advocated the ability to team Cars and Camaraderie™ together to open channels within the automotive industry that support the challenges of Parkinson’s disease and is the founder of national non-profit Drive Toward a Cure®.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Having been in the car industry for several decades — blending cars and camaraderie has always been something of second nature — but when I lost my mom to complications from Parkinson’s in 2006, I realized there were meaningful ways to share friendships with the joy of driving, to support the challenges others may face.

My vision for Drive Toward a Cure was quite simple — utilize the passion and emotion of driving to spread the word and help the cause. And it’s only grown as I’ve met, befriended, and supported so many nationwide touched by the disease personally or acquainted with those challenged by Parkinson’s disease.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

We planned our first event with literally NO funding, and naively thought we could plan an event based on only the registration fees to cover the costs and a small donation… all our publicity came through editorial coverage rather than advertising to save on costs, and we relied on a network of industry friends to help us share our plans. We also naively planned not one, but two simultaneous drives (starting in Northern AND Southern California) to meet in the middle, in Santa Barbara County, creating double logistical planning!

When it came time to give the hotel the deposit we still hadn’t gained even one registration — thankfully, before we could consider canceling, I received my first call — an older gentleman had seen our promotion in an automotive magazine, decided he and his wife would drive up from Southern California in a vintage Porsche 356 (coincidentally my favorite car on the planet) and his best friend who had competed in an historic racing series with him in the exact same model car, would be joining with his wife and driving down from Northern California — giving us our first two entries! And, as if that weren’t thrilling enough, before he got off the phone, he half whispered “by the way, I have Parkinson’s.”

At that moment I knew someone above must be looking down, and we were indeed doing something right — something with meaning and that I couldn’t fail — this had to move forward.

And somehow, after the call, it all fell into place — we sold out with thirty-six entries including luxury, exotic and vintage vehicles and raised our first $20,000 for Parkinson’s disease.

Since that time, we’ve had numerous events and have additionally gained support by clubs, groups and organizations that put on their own 1-day programs on our behalf — and together with our donors we’ve now raised more than $1 million to help create patient care programs for regional Parkinson Foundation Centers of Excellence as well as provide contributions for research to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

By far, and unfortunately occasionally continuing within our small resourceful team — is underestimating exactly how much time EVERYTHING really takes — even for the simplest of things that we thought were pre-planned. Adding a mental note — don’t rely on Fed-Ex to meet your deadlines at the last minute!

For our very first multi-day event, we had created a wonderful 60-page route book which was basically the bible of the program so to speak — containing turn-by-turn instructions for our near 300-mile event, along with background stories and all our sponsorship inclusion. Unfortunately, the printer ended up shipping to my home address rather than the location where our event was to begin, and Fed-Ex didn’t meet the timing — and worse for us, it was stuck in a warehouse somewhere, nearly ruining the premise of our entire event. We sat up through the night trying to create ‘Plan B’ when we finally got a call that all was found and fortunately we could dispatch a volunteer to get the boxes, while we were still sweating it out. Lessons learned, failure to plan (on time) is planning to fail —

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

In addition to raising money and simply ‘giving it away’ we’ve aligned with various Parkinson Foundation regional Centers of Excellence in the areas we hold events — so not only can the contributed dollars stay local, but they provide programs that enhance patient care.

Over the past few years, we have grown our ‘Access to Care’ fund from one overall donation to individual opportunities building a greater connection within the local communities where those challenged by Parkinson’s call home. We provide dollars for grassroots approaches that can include anything from bringing patients virtual nutritional education and exercise programs, to creating touchpoints of hope for a meaningful purpose. Most important, we are helping to provide areas of ‘inclusivity’ and involvement.

Specific patient care programs we have funded include the creation of a ‘Caregiver Academy’ in the Pacific Northwest through Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), as well as generating deeper Hispanic outreach and in-clinic programs at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona — importantly serving patients during COVID-19 by offering virtual support groups, art classes, and music and movement therapy to patients in both English and Spanish.

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” — whether through kindness, friendship, volunteerism or simply helping those that can’t help themselves — there is nothing more meaningful to incorporate into our existence. It’s not about money, it’s about care and realizing that when we contribute to making a difference, our one little part keeps adding on and can make a substantial difference in the world — even if it only affects one individual at a time.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

For us, it’s less of one individual and more of a village who came together to create the gift that kept on giving…

In 2018, two strangers met and realized they both had more in common than cars — Nashville-based Sean Kiernan and I each had lost a parent to Parkinson’s but together we showed the world that despite our loss we could collectively do something good.

Beginning on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Steve McQueen’s iconic “Bullitt” film — when Sean, the owner of the original “Bullitt” Mustang movie car, brought it out of hiding for the first time in 45 years, to display to the public at the Detroit International Auto Show — we met and became fast friends.

Our village then grew with watchmaker BRM Americas and automotive fine artist Nicolas Hunziker, who together created a visual opportunity to design and handcraft a unique raffle item — the 1-of-1 Bullitt 50 Chronograph watch (valued at $35,000) — we then gained permission by those who held the licensing for the Bullitt film, car and name including Chad McQueen (son of Steve), Warner Bros Entertainment (who held the film licensing), and automaker Ford (who produced the original Mustang).

With only social media to thank, we sold raffle tickets in thirty-six states and twelve countries — with 100% of the proceeds going to the Michael J. Fox Foundation to honor the original owner — father of SEAN KIERNAN who passed away from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

But the true story emerged because the watch itself signified more than just a special prize — when the raffle winner later showed his watch to another donor of ours happening to be a Bullitt Mustang owner and fan of unique watches, that donor then matched the dollars raised and took possession — AND LATER an additional chapter continued — as similar to the “sisterhood of the traveling pants” this was not to be the watch’s final home — in December 2019, a new custodian came forth offering an additional donation to Drive Toward a Cure securing the watch’s current ownership.

In the end, we raised a total of $85,000 because a village came together and supported those that often can’t help themselves — and it all began with a new-found friendship and a bit of pixie dust sprinkled for a common cause.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Get organized — Many are working very hard to achieve new outcomes, however if research could be done on a more coordinated basis, therapies and medications could gain FDA approval faster, and developments could be accomplished more quickly

Remove barriers to research — unfortunately due to Covid, there are very few therapies currently in Phase 3 trials with even fewer participants — so sadly, those trials need to start again. Any help provided to get folks into trials/clinics could help move things quicker to become approved by general population — we need to move the ball faster to the goal line to get this solved

Educate, educate, educate — too many afflicted patients don’t know the opportunities outside of medicine that are there to help — whether about diet or exercise — what you put in your mouth and what you do with your body — encourage people with Parkinson’s disease to read, read, read and learn more ways to help themselves, whether through PSAs or otherwise and realize it’s not only drugs that can change our bodies and esteem.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me is defined by setting the example — one doesn’t need to be a CEO to be an effective leader, they simply need to have vision, integrity, and the ability to communicate wisely to bring others along in an encouraging way. If you’ve got motivation to make a change, can stand true to that conviction and are open to collaboration, you’ve got the traits to be a leader.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. The power of social media is not only about ‘likes’ on Instagram — realize that LinkedIn and the professional networks you align with can be equally as efficient while potentially providing more credibility than all the ‘likes’ you might gain on Instagram, not just in terms of raising awareness and revenue but gaining like-minded and enthusiastic volunteers.

2. It’s not always WHO you know, but rather WHAT “they” know — selecting a working Board structure can begin based on relationships and trust BUT, should incorporate varied skillsets and different backgrounds that can offer strong leadership capabilities in addition to providing your organization recognition based on one’s prior accolades — by combining individuals with financial, marketing, and other business acumen with those that are involved in the community and hold strong networking capabilities, you can gain a well-rounded team that can succeed through strategy and creativity.

3. Allow your teammates their own ‘piece of real estate’ within the organization, so they can amplify your needs by doing what they do best — they can feel proud of their own accomplishments within the success of the foundation — remember ‘it takes a village’ to succeed.

4. What’s in a name?? Without any one of today’s many ‘influencers’ on your side, you want to be sure you can be recognized and remembered for your mission and your vision — overall, your ‘why’ — and for us, Drive Toward a Cure touched upon it all — our goal was to open channels within the car community, create inclusive programs and touch an emotional chord — not just for our cause, but for those helping us reach our goal. Key is consistency in all your messaging and blending your name in all you do — what started for us with the word ‘Drive’ may have touched upon cars — but in a bolder, bigger sense, it’s really about ‘Initiative’ and can be applied well beyond those with a passion for cars.

5. Legalities matter — upon meeting my first potential Board member, he asked “what do you want to do?” and all I knew was I wanted to be real — and for me that meant getting a 501(c)3 stature, registering our trademarks and gaining enough credibility to one day top $1 million dollars raised — I’m proud to say we accomplished all three within our first five years but it also took having the first four bullets above to help us get there 😊.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m a firm believer that if you can help just one or two people, you moved a mountain — while we continue to give a great deal of our contributions each year to organizations that support Parkinson’s research, we’ve worked equally as hard to bring in grassroots programs throughout the country that can seed patient care needs — I continue to hope that the research to find a cure will happen in my lifetime, but knowing the daily challenges my mom faced with her own Parkinson’s, I also want to help those NOW that need it most while they are living.

We’re building our ‘Special Assistance Fund’ to provide help when extra challenges are faced — like challenges affecting patients with Parkinson’s disease AFTER catastrophic events — including natural disasters that can further dampen their spirits and self-care. In the past we supported applicant’s needs following California fires, Louisiana hurricanes, Kentucky tornadoes — and individual patient care needs for transport and medical supplies.

Every dollar helps, and by local individuals and communities coming together to do fun things that can raise money — whether it’s a drive, a BBQ, a poker run or a bake sale — they spread awareness for the cause and help to make a difference for someone else.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My mother would always say “imagine the possibilities” — a phrase that I’ve lived with throughout my life, offering me the belief to try, try and try again, and never give up — who knows where the next accomplishment might just be.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

One of the most prolific leaders in today’s modern world may have been General Colin Powell — as the type of leader who crossed both sides of the party lines and became one of the most respected personalities in American history. General Powell was also a car aficionado, owning an eclectic collection of cars that included old Volvos, various Corvettes, a Mercedes Pagoda and even a PT Cruiser. But even more relevant to me, he was challenged by Parkinson’s disease — and had he still been here today I would choose to speak with him and determine better ways to gain advocacy for our cause.

How can our readers further follow your work online?



Instagram: @drivetowardacure

Linked In:

Linked In (Personal)

You Tube:

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Deb Pollack of Drive Toward a Cure Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.