Meet Leyna R: She Puts the Go-Getter in G.I.R.L.
The young women featured in this series have not only earned Girl Scouts’ highest honor by being named 2016 National Young Women of Distinction—they also serve as incredible examples of what it means to be a G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™.
Like most teenagers, I was pretty excited to get my driver’s permit. I couldn’t wait to have the independence that would go along with having a real license. That first day in the car with the driving instructor was great. Sure, I was still learning what I was doing, but the teacher was so patient with me, and everything went so smoothly. It wasn’t super easy or anything, but it was fun and I couldn’t wait to practice again.
But the next time I went out for a drive couldn’t have been more different. Cars were honking at me, driving way too close, and even cutting me off in traffic. I was terrified that I was going to get hurt or hurt someone else—it was horrible. I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong. Just the other day with the instructor, it had been so much easier! And then it hit me: the driving school car had “driving school” painted all over it, so people knew I was just learning and gave me more space on the road. When I was in my parents’ car, though, nobody knew I was a new driver, so people assumed I knew what I was doing.
I’d gone from really looking forward to driving to actually dreading it overnight, but I knew that if I was ever going to be a good driver, I’d have to get out there again. This time, though, I wanted to make sure other drivers knew what they were dealing with—so I grabbed some cardboard and made a sign that said “student driver” in big letters and stuck it in the back window of the car. Sure, I was a little worried that my friends would see the sign and think I was a super dork, but I was more worried about getting into a car crash, so the sign stayed put and driving got a whole lot easier and safer.
When my friends started driving and experienced the same thing I had, I knew it wasn’t just me who had this problem, and that really every new driver could use a sign like mine. And that’s how the idea of my Gold Award project was born! I worked with local organizations and corporations to design and produce bright yellow student driver decals that teenagers could put on the outside of their car. I started giving them out at high schools and driving schools, but I want kids outside my local area to have access to the decals, too, which is why I’ve been working with the government to create a law that would make sure every DMV in the state would have our decals available to new drivers. My bill hasn’t been written into law yet, but I’ve spoken in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee and am working with my assembly member to make sure it gets passed next year.
In the meantime, more than 600 decals have been put to use by new drivers, keeping them, their passengers, and their fellow drivers a lot safer. A lot of people have thanked me for my work on this, but I really have to thank Girl Scouts. Being a Girl Scout for 13 years gave me the tools I needed to grow into a leader in my community and improved my life in so many ways. I not only know how to stand up for myself—I know how to use my political voice to make a difference in the world. It makes me so happy to know that millions of other girls are getting the same toolkit and preparing to change the world with their own Gold Award projects.