Jaden Johnson walked up to a Girls Inc. visitor, smiled, held out her hand for a shake and said, "Hi, I'm Jaden."
The sophomore at Owensboro High School loves math and physics. She plays lacrosse and sings in the choir. Outside of school, she enjoys hiking and camping.
Someday, she aspires to be a nurse or engineer.
But, for now, Jaden wants to advocate for girls.
She recently earned the chance to do that at a national level.
Jaden is one of 11 girls nationwide and one from a Canadian province selected to serve on the Girls Inc. Teen Advocacy Council. At 16, Jaden is the council's youngest member.
To earn a spot on the TAC, candidates were asked to write an essay about a concern in their communities and to offer solutions. Jaden chose teen pregnancy as her topic and suggested more educational programs about preventing unwanted pregnancies.
"I want girls to know that someone is there to listen to them and be their voice when they feel like they don't have one," she wrote in the essay that secured her seat on the TAC. "I can be their voice."
TAC members chat online quarterly. From those conversations, they will advise the national nonprofit about issues facing girls, lead a national campaign to prevent childhood sexual harassment and violence, and hone their advocacy skills.
Two years ago, Girls Inc. surveyed its national membership and found girls' main issues were bullying, sexual harassment and sexual violence. Within a year after the survey, the organization launched a #GirlsToo campaign, which focuses on respect for girls. In Jaden's new role, she will assist with that campaign.
In the past, the local Girls Inc. has had a couple of other members who served at the national level, said Tish Correa Osborne, CEO. But it's been a long time.
"We're honored for her to have this opportunity," Correa Osborne said. "It's such a neat experience. Just getting chosen is huge."
Jaden's family includes seven children -- with one on the way. She's in the middle of the pack.
She's been attending Girls Inc. for nearly two years. During that time, she's helped staff with an art weekend at Daviess County Public Library, assisted with a festival and spoke at a domestic violence event, to name a few activities.
Newly selected TAC members, who will serve a one-year term, met online earlier this month. Jaden, the only member from Kentucky, was nervous at first. She did more listening than talking.
"But they're all really nice," she said. "They're from everywhere."
It means a lot to her that her essay caught someone's eye at the national level and earned her a spot on the council. "It's the best opportunity I've ever had," Jaden said. "... Doing this gets me out of my comfort zone and helps me do more with what I know."
Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, email@example.com