For teen girls, some days it seems like the weight of the world rests on their shoulders. There are pressures to get good grades, fit in with their peers, make the sports team, appear cool on social media – the list goes on. Recognizing a need to expose teen girls to a number of personal and mobility safety issues, the Ford Motor Company Fund debuted the “Ford Focus on Girls’ Safety” event at Gilbert High School on Nov. 4.
The free half-day event had girls and their parents rotating through four sessions and learning key lessons about personal safety, basic vehicle maintenance, distracted driving and digital citizenship. A central part of the instruction focused on making better driving decisions by highlighting the dangers of impaired and distracted driving, which were demonstrated via a hands-on drivable course (for licensed or permitted drivers) and through Ford’s impaired driving suits, which allowed girls to experience what using drugs or alcohol does to your vision.
“The distracted driving session was eye-opening because you could actually see how many cones were run over while the drivers tried to text a message,” said Lexi Woolsey, a 13-year-old Gilbert resident who attends Payne Junior High. “Those drivers actually look a lot like drunk drivers on the road because they can’t stay in their lanes and aren’t paying attention.”
Girls also learned about safety when using ridesharing and ride-hailing services, and practiced going “Chihuahua crazy” in a personal safety session led by retired DPS officer and Gilbert resident Laurie Latham of AZPlayItSafeDefense. She taught the girls to be vocal and use their most powerful weapon – their legs – to kick at an assailant. Retired police officer Frank Griffitts also spoke to the girls about the dangers of social media, while parents learned about the effects of social media on teenage brains with Katey McPherson, executive director of The Gurian Institute.
San Tan Ford’s service team taught girls and their parents basic maintenance skills like how to check fluid levels in their vehicle, jump a car battery using new jump starters that do not require another car to be hooked up, change a dirty air filter, check tire tread wear and more.
A highlight of the event was a keynote speech by six-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen, who shared her personal story of resiliency. As a child, she had severe asthma and couldn’t even swim a full lap across the pool until she was 11. She won six gold meals over two Olympics, and she passed around all six of those medals for the audience to touch. On June 6, 2014, she was involved in an ATV accident that severed her spinal cord leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
“Amy has spent her entire life overcoming the odds and we couldn’t have asked for a better role model to speak to these young girls,” said Yisel Cabrera, community relations manager at the Ford Motor Company Fund. “We hope this inaugural event has equipped them with valuable life lessons that pertain to mobility and personal safety, especially as they approach driving age.”