Brainerd High School sophomore Kirsten Schroer never realized when she first started how much impact her Girl Scout project would have on herself and others.
The 15-year-old started work on her Girl Scout Gold Award- the highest and most prestigious award Girl Scout seniors and ambassadors can earn-in September of 2014 and has recently completed it and received her pin Sunday during a Girl Scout award ceremony at Northern Lakes Senior Living in Baxter.
Titled "One Text or Call Could Wreck It All," Schroer's Gold Award project educates students and adults about the dangers of distracted driving. Before Schroer even got approval from the Girl Scouts on the project, she said "I had to research my butt off and figure out ways on how I would share the message.
"A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into this project."
KLICK! Photo Gallery: Girl Scout Gold Award Ceremony for Kirsten Schroer - 29 Photos by Kelly Humphrey
Schroer decided to do her project on distracted driving to prepare herself and her classmates as they soon would be getting their driver's licenses. Schroer said teen drivers are at risk and they do not learn a lot in school about distracted driving.
Schroer got her driver's permit in July of 2015 and she will turn 16 in May and will then have her driver's license. When she went through the class, Schroer said there was only a small paragraph on distracted driving and some information on the consequences of drinking and driving.
"After reading the manual I was like this is a good thing that I am talking to kids about this," she said.
To earn her Gold Award, Schroer gathered her research and interviews, created a presentation and then got to work. For the past 16 months, Schroer has presented her project to close to 800 high school students in Brainerd and Pequot Lakes and adults in Brainerd's Noon Sertoma Club and the Lion's Club. Most of the students she has talked to were in driver's education classes.
Schroer shared with students the top five things that distracts driving, such as cellphone use, adjusting music, smoking, eating and loud passengers. She shared statistics with them such as there were 78,396 crashes in Minnesota in 2014, with 29,439 crashes resulting in injuries and 361 resulting in death. In Crow Wing County, there were 806 crashes in 2014, with 393 of them resulting in injuries and 10 resulting in death.
Schroer said the number of 2014 crashes overall went up by 1,000 compared with 2013.
What surprised Schroer the most in her research was the fact that 53 percent of children age 6 have their own cellphone in the United States.
"When kids move from the back seat to the front seat, I want them to keep their cellphone in the back seat so they don't get distracted," Schroer said.
Schroer is in Brainerd Troop 395 and her mother, Susan Schroer, is her leader. Kirsten Schroer is a senior and she will be bridging to an ambassador in May, or moving up to the next level in Girl Scouts. Schroer has now completed all three Girl Scout awards a Girl Scout can earn. She earned her Bronze Award in fifth grade and her project was on composting and how to recycle. She then earned her SIlver Award in seventh grade and it was on "12 Ways to be Green in 2012." Schroer had until her high school graduation to complete the Gold Award.
Susan Schroer said only 5 percent of Girl Scouts in the nation will complete their Gold Award.
"I'm extremely proud of her," Susan said of her daughter. "I am proud she found a project she is passionate about. Every time she shares her message you can see she really believes what she is talking about.
"I am glad the kids are listening to her message. Kirsten said Crow Wing County has not had any fatalities through texting and driving and we would like to keep it that way."
Monica Husen, Minnesota Specialist Team Leader of Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin Pines, who serves the Brainerd office, opened the ceremony Sunday and explained what the Gold Award is.
The Girl Scout Gold Award is a community-based achievement with a lasting positive impact on the lives of others in their community, and can reach people around the world. The award is designed to help girls think deeply, explore opportunities and challenge themselves.
The award stands for excellence, leadership and recognizes a Girl Scout's commitment to excellence as she develops skills and values to meet present and future challenges in her life. To earn this award, girls have to plan and carry out many months worth of activities to help prepare them to take on their Gold Award leadership project, an endeavor taking a minimum of 80 hours. The project must be more than a good service project-it must encompass organizational, leadership and networking skills, serve a real need in the community and create lasting change.
"Kirsten has worked very hard for this," Husen said. "She received her award during the 100th anniversary of the Gold Award. ... Many of you here have supported her and helped make her golden dreams come true."
Kirsten Schroer is excited and relieved about completing her award. However, her work is not done. She plans to continue to share her message and will talk to the driver's education classes up until her high school graduation.
"I have heard nothing but positive things from people," Schroer said. "Half the kids I have never talked to before and they come up to me and thank me for talking to them. They tell me they never heard half the stuff I tell them. This shows me they are paying attention to what I am telling them."
Brainerd Police Officer Troy Schreifels, who serves as the BHS school liaison officer, said it was an honor to present Schroer the pin at the ceremony. He said, "I don't know many teenagers who can give such an excellent presentation in front of a group of adults."
Schreifels thanked Schroer for doing her project on distracted driving. He said accidents can be prevented and hopefully her message will get through to students and prevent them from getting into a crash.
Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, also spoke briefly at the ceremony. He told Schroer it was great that she chose the topic she did and brought the issue forward. He said legislators have had lengthy discussions on the issue.
Minnesota has a use of wireless communication device law in place, where no person can operate a vehicle while using a wireless communication device to compose, read or send an electronic message, when the vehicle is in motion or part of the traffic. A person can make a phone call or solely use the device in a voice-activated or hands-free mode.
Schroer said there were 3,200 citations given for texting and driving in 2014. Citations cost between $125-$145. The fines used to cost between $50-$100.
Schroer, who has been in Girl Scouts since first grade, said the nonprofit organization has taught her to be thankful, to give back to the community and taught her public speaking and leadership skills.
"It has taught me overall life lessons," she said. "We all have a voice and we should voice our opinion and share it with others."
Outside of Girl Scouts, Schroer is involved in Brainerd Area Youth for Christ Dream Team; Crow Wing County 4-H; Crow Wing County Dairy Ambassador in 2014; she is in theatre, speech, band and choir at BHS; 4-H Ambassador; and a volunteer counselor at Lutheran Island Camp in Henning.