Youth advocacy for safer roads: a personal journey

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Hi. I'm Kaylen. Over the past five years I've been actively advocating for youth health and safety. In addition to helping propel a shift in societal views when it comes to safe driving, inspired by real people affected by real tragedies on the road, I've had the chance to do some pretty cool stuff.

This all happened because I simply started saying "yes" to opportunities, and believing that making a difference was, indeed, within my reach. I don’t like talking about myself, but I realize that sharing my story, and the path that got me here, can inspire others to start saying “yes” too. So, here it goes.

By the time I was sixteen, I had received my first grant to host a youth health and safety event for an entire elementary school. I knew that saying “no” to applying was failure in itself, so I decided to give “yes” a try.

By the time I was seventeen I had been one of twenty youth chosen to combat distracted driving on the first-ever National Teen Distracted Driving Team, with the support of National Organizations for Youth Safety. Additionally, I hosted a distracted driving rally for my high school, was awarded the National Safety Council's Teen Driving Safety Leadership Award, and was a guest speaker at a press conference in the U.S. Capitol in support of stronger Graduated Driver Licensing legislation (Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety's STANDUP Act).

By the time I was eighteen I was elected National President of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, the highest honor in an organization with 200,000 members in all 52 state associations, where I utilized my national platform to speak out to families about community and traffic safety. As part of the Minnesota Teen Safe Driving Coalition, I served on the same panel as U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, and I emceed the U.S. launch of the UN's Decade of Action for Road Safety.

By the time I was nineteen I had been invited to Obama's Presidential Inaugural Ball and Inauguration following the 2012 election as a guest of the Department of Transportation. I united with hundreds of youth to dance "Gangnam Style" in front of the U.S. Capitol, and I joined U.S. Cabinet members and transportation leaders in cutting the ribbon to launch the Long Short Walk for Road Safety, a global initiative led by the Commission for Global Road Safety and the Mandela family.

By the time I was twenty I had spent a summer in D.C. interning with National Organizations for Youth Safety, where I finished out my term as a Board Member on FCCLA's National Board of Directors. Furthermore, I was provided with an amazing opportunity to intern for my long-time friend and mentor, (now former) FIA Foundation Director of Road Safety Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr. One of my tasks was to create a video for the My World campaign, which encouraged people across the globe to weigh-in on the issues they wanted included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

By the time I was twenty-one I had the opportunity to join global ambassadors and world-changers on a panel at the UN Observance of International Day of Happiness, where I discussed how youth service and community involvement can lead to happiness.

Now as a twenty-one-year-old, I am blessed with the opportunity to continue supporting safe roads for all with current U.S. Manager for the FIA Foundation, Natalie Draisin. I help recruit writers for this very blog, because I understand the importance of youth taking the lead in the fight against an epidemic that affects them more than anyone else.

My work has only just begun. I don't know where life will take me, but I do know that I am passionate about making our world safer, and I believe in continuing to support an organization that makes leaps and bounds every day to save kids lives and build a sustainable future.

This was all because I made a conscious decision at a young age to not go through the motions. I didn't want to end up on a path where I showed up to work in the morning and went home in the evening to a world that hadn't changed.

I didn't do it alone, I had mentors and friends along the way... I still do.

I did, however, decide that putting in a little extra was worth it. I decided that moving my final exams every semester in college to speak at or attend an event was worth it. I decided that making up the homework for over 150 missed days of classes was worth it. I decided that getting over my stage fright and speaking to a crowd of over 7,000 people was worth it.

It was all worth it, if it meant a single life was saved. It was worth it if one intersection could be made safer with a crosswalk, or a parent would start setting a better driving example for his/her children. It was all worth it if another youth began believing that their influence could have a lasting impact.

I said "yes" to talking about traffic safety when none of my friends wanted to listen. I said "yes,” and so can you.