We recently sat down to speak with Daniela McKenzie, the founder of “Let’s Talk” a safe space discussion program that encourages young people to speak and be heard. The 18-year-old Girl Scout of Tropical Florida Ambassador created the Girl Scout Gold Award program out of a passion to drive awareness for mental health issues among teens and break through the stigma to address these issues. The Sunny Isles Beach resident has partnered with the city’s mayor to implement “Let’s Talk” as part of their city-wide youth initiatives both now and into the future. While anxiously awaiting her admission decisions, Daniela plans to pursue a double major in international relations and applied mathematics/general engineering this fall.
Describe your project
My Gold Award project goals are to promote awareness, respect, understanding, and compassion of others, self, and mental health in creating a safe space discussion program to allow young people to speak and be heard.
How is your project sustainable?
My Gold Award is sustained beyond my involvement through Vice Mayor Larisa Svechin’s city-wide youth initiatives in the City of Sunny Isles Beach.
What gave you the inspiration to approach this topic the way that you did?
My inspiration to approach this topic the way that I did was the rising levels of mental health issues in my generation and the lack of programs led by young people to approach and address these issues.
Why is this project important to you, personally?
I have a strong and unwavering belief in the power of communication and respect, making the extra effort to understand. So many of the most controversial problems in our world could be solved if people just listened to each other and made the effort to understand and compromise. Hopefully with the creation of “Let’s Talk”, I will be able to make a small ripple to work toward creating a society that is more understanding, open, and aware.
What was the biggest challenge you overcame and how?
The obstacles I encountered were mainly related to COVID-19 and the current state of our community, the United States and the world at large. Though I was able to host a few, limited, in-person meetings, a majority of the project was done virtually and attendees physically separated. This provided for some difficulties in increasing involvement and generally spreading the word.
How does this project contribute to your goals for the future?
This project equipped me with experience in being compassionate and understanding, especially in a leadership position. I hope that I will continue to learn from and use this experience in my future.
What did you learn about your community in this process?
I learned of the inherently good and helpful nature of my local government in assisting and sustaining my project but also the kindness and goodness of all who became involved.
What did you learn about YOURSELF?
I learned that I truly do love listening to and learning more about others and their views, passions, and opinions. I also learned that I have the power to make a difference, no matter how small my steps may be.
Girl Scouts has made me a better and more whole person. It has helped me to grow and develop through 10+ years of service and wonderful experiences.