When a t-shirt is so much more than a piece of clothing

GalsIt was a simple idea. What if our driver’s license service center and county treasurer team members wore t-shirts promoting organ donation? Could that turn the question we ask of all our customers “do you want to be an organ and tissue donor” into more meaningful conversations or result in more customers choosing to become donors?

That simple idea has no doubt saved lives and has earned the Iowa DOT two awards, the Donate Life America’s DMV Innovation Award from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators Region 3 and a LEGACI award from the Iowa Donor Network for our partnership in seeking new ways to educate and promote donation. Kaylie Hoyle, Director of Philanthropy for the Iowa Donor Network, shared in a letter that, “The front-line staff at driver’s license service centers play a vital role in increasing Iowa’s donor registry. Iowa Donor Network is proud of our strong partnership with the Iowa DOT, which has helped Iowa achieve one of the highest donor registration rates in the country.”

Mindi and Kaylie
The Iowa DOT’s Mindi Nguyen accepts the two awards from Kaylie Hoyle, Director of Philanthropy at Iowa Donor Network

The awards are great, but the real benefit is the impact on our staff and customers. In August of 2019, we published a blog post about Drew Lienemann, who at age 16 answered “yes” to the organ donor question when he got his license. Not long after he made the decision, Drew’s parents, Dan and Wanda, were faced with Drew’s death. The Lienemanns, registered organ and tissue donors themselves, knew that Drew’s decision was the right one. Drew’s choice to become an organ and tissue donor impacted nearly 200 lives, helping his parents through their grief.  

The Lienemanns are now advocates and supporters of the Iowa Donor Network. This connection inspired the family to collaborate with the Iowa Donor Network and donate t-shirts for all state and county Iowa driver’s license team members. Like Drew, the majority of new organ and tissue donor registrations come through a driver’s licensing or renewal experience. But that standard “do you want to become an organ and tissue donor” question took on new meaning on Fridays in 2019 when staff were wearing those t-shirts.

Data shows that the t-shirts worked as the number of individuals who registered to be organ donors increased significantly during the time period that we wore them.

Lienemann family at Waukee
This plaque in the Waukee driver’s service center tells Drew’s story. Pictured are Dan and Wanda Lienemann (center) with a family friend.

In addition to the second generation of t-shirts, Nguyen is working with the Iowa Donor Network on another campaign to showcase the diversity of donations. Using Drew’s plaque in Waukee as inspiration, she is working to tell the stories of local organ donors, recipients, and living donors.  featured on plaques in DOT driver’s license service centers.

Nguyen is currently working on unveiling three additional stories later this year at our Des Moines River Place, Mason City, and Council Bluffs service centers. She said, “The families of these brave donors often want to give back to the communities that have supported them through their grief. Telling these stories can encourage others to register resulting in more lives being impacted. It makes it even more special when we can share local stories that mean something to its community members.”

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