Beacon Stories

May 24, 2021

Girl Scouts are Changing the World One Crosswalk at a Time

Inspired by their troop leader diagnosed with Usher syndrome, Girl Scout Troop 1673 is hoping to change the world, one crosswalk at a time, with their Paint It Yellow challenge.

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GS Troop 1673 is painting the benches yellow at Meadow Lane Park in Vienna, VA with Town Mayor Linda Colbert, Delegate Mark Keam and fellow scouts from their school, Our Lady of Good Counsel.

Crosswalks are the safest way for pedestrians to cross an intersection, and they are common all over the world, in cities, residential neighborhoods, and even inside theme parks and malls. Unfortunately, some members of the low vision community cannot always see where a crosswalk is due to the dull markings on the road, which makes crossing dangerous. Inspired by their troop leader, Girl Scout Troop 1673 is taking action to get some color painted on as many crosswalks as possible in their home state of Virginia and learning valuable life lessons along the way.

Peggy Borst is the leader of Troop 1673 and was diagnosed with Usher syndrome in 2010. Usher syndrome affects both hearing and vision loss. Peggy explained to the girls back when they were just Brownies why she could not always see or hear them when they were trying to get her attention. After they learned about the disease, they were motivated to get the word out about Usher syndrome and the low vision community in general.

“When Mrs. Borst told us that she had Usher syndrome, we were really sad, but then we also really wanted to help raise awareness about this disease,” said Siena, one of the members of the troop.

After she attended an Usher Syndrome Coalition conference, Peggy told the troop about Yellow The World, a campaign from the Italian non-profit NoisyVision to raise awareness on accessibility and to promote the mobility of visually impaired and blind individuals by planting flags all over Europe and posting it on social media. They wanted to do something similar in their community to raise awareness for Usher syndrome, so the Paint It Yellow challenge was born. (To find out how you and your family can be a part of the challenge, click here before it ends on June 20, 2021.)

The girls were motivated by the positive feedback they got from their campaign and wanted to take it further than just raising awareness. “They told me that they wanted to take action, so they asked me what is something that would help me in my everyday life,” Peggy said. “I told them that there are certain things that are harder for me to see out in public. Stairs look like slides unless each step is distinguishable, and crosswalks are not always properly marked. It’d be amazing if they were bright and easy to see. We wanted to find a way to help everyone with low vision. Starting with one state at a time, proposing their crosswalk bill.”

GS Troop 1673 meets with VA State Senator David Marsden (Transportation Committee Chair) via Zoom to lobby bill HB1841 ahead of their testimony on the virtual Senate floor.

In February 2020, the troop went to Richmond and presented to Delegate Mark Keam the need for safer streets by having better-marked crosswalks, curbs, and stairs. Delegate Keam loved the idea so much that he said yes to sponsoring it and it became known as the Zebra Bill.

In September 2020, they had a Zoom meeting with Governor Ralph Northam, who helped them by signing a Proclamation to recognize Usher Syndrome Awareness Day on September 19, 2020. That same month they partnered with four other Girl Scout Troops and painted benches yellow inside a Vienna, Virginia park. They were also joined by Mayor Linda Colbert, Delegate Keam, and RG Contractors of McLean, who helped by giving them professional painting tips. 

In January 2021, they presented their bill, which became HB 1841, to 16 Virginia state legislators and Governor Northam’s policy director via Zoom. The girls presented slides and reiterated the importance of well-marked crosswalks and sidewalks to keep all pedestrians safe. The bill passed in a unanimous vote in February 2021, exactly one year since they started.

They did receive some pushback due to limitations in historic cities and the cost of new crosswalks, but Delegate Keam still wanted to help make it happen. He proposed a working group be established by the Virginia Department of Transportation to study crosswalks which helped the troop stay in the game. The girls are now working with environmental professionals, engineers, and representatives from National Federation for the Blind and American Council for the Blind to determine the safest and best crosswalk design. They will introduce the new bill on November 1, 2021.

"My favorite thing about Paint It Yellow so far has been meeting with the Delegates. I felt amazing after each meeting because I was helping people with low vision,” Said Leah, one of the troop members.

GS Troop 1673 takes their first hike of 2021 at Wolf Trap National Park to earn their Trailblazing badge

GS Troop 1673 takes their first hike of 2021 at Wolf Trap National Park to earn their Trailblazing badge. (Top left to right: Siena Assaly and Maria Borst. Bottom left to right: Leah S. and Victoria Delacourt)

The troop is small but mighty and are proud of everything they have accomplished in the past year. “It was really cool to learn about the process for getting a bill passed,” said troop member Maria. “We are actually learning about it right now in Social Studies, but we got to learn about it by doing it!”

“My favorite part of this whole process has been meeting all the people we’ve helped,” said Victoria. “The idea started small, but now here we are in a working group making the change actually happen.”

Peggy and Lisa Assaly, co-leader of the Troop, worked as a great team to motivate and help the girls on their campaign, and they earned their silver and bronze awards for their hard work. “The Girl Scout organization has created a wonderful opportunity for the girls with their Take Action projects. It makes them service-oriented, and when they see a need to fill it,” said Lisa.  

What started as a social media challenge to raise awareness became a hands-on lesson on how bills become laws. They are only 11- and 12-years old but are an inspiration to us all and showcase how creativity, empathy, and persistence can change the world — one crosswalk at a time.

To read more about Troop 1673, visit www.paintityellow.org and follow them on social media to stay informed about all their progress leading up to November.