This article originally appeared in the Friday May 24, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
Jasmine Leal was recently awarded the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve.
Leal, a senior at Sharyland Pioneer High School, was one of the recipients of the 2019 Gold Award. According to press release from the Girl Scouts of Greater South Texas, the award recognizes the “extraordinary efforts of extraordinary girls” who have “undertaken projects to help their communities” and “truly distinguished themselves as prominent leaders in their communities and as true change-makers.”
Leal will be attending the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in the fall with the intent to transfer to Texas A&M University Kingsville. She plans on studying animal science with the hope of one day becoming a veterinarian.
While she loves working with animals, her endeavor for the Girl Scouts as well as the community had more to do with providing children overseen by Child Protective Services access to literature. Leal saw a need for a library at a local CPS branch and spent over 86 hours organizing, painting and gathering book and supply donations for the Rainbow Room Library for Forsaken Angels.
“It was an amazing feeling at the end, to finish everything and see the faces of the people and kids,” Jasmine Leal said. “You have to have the passion for it.”
Leal wanted to help fill a gap for children of all ages who are involved with CPS. She said she sought to create a space for kids to read while waiting for placement after realizing many of them do not have regular access to reading material.
“The kids in our school don’t appreciate a lot of the things we have, like libraries for example and books,” Jasmine Leal said. “These kids [at CPS] don’t have stuff like that, and I just wanted to put a smile on their faces and let them have that opportunity.”
A varsity softball player who was born with impaired hearing, Leal hopes the library will provide inspiration to foster kids going through CPS and give them an escape through literature.
“I didn’t want to forget why I was doing this,” Jasmine Leal said. “It was hard not giving up because of how busy I am, but I like to push myself.”
Leal’s mother, Maribel Leal, has been her scout leader (Troop 4114) since Leal joined the organization in the second grade.
“We would always take our Girl Scouts to volunteer at the CPS office,” Maribel Leal said. “One of their comments to me was that whenever they go in there, all they see is broken toys, clothes and shoes, but they had not seen one book in the facility.”
Maribel Leal is a licensed practical nurse at Restorative Health Care, and she often works with children who have been removed from their homes by CPS. Her background with those children gave her and Jasmine insight to how the kids are living.
Leal had to sketch the library layout, paint and do the legwork under the supervision of Maribel, who was not allowed to help Leal during the process.
“It took a total of six months for her to complete,” Maribel Leal said. “It was 86 hours in total. In between that, she’s playing travel ball, high school ball, she would come home late evenings after school practices and work on her project.”
In addition to painting the library, Leal built the shelves and held a book fair at the Speer Memorial Library in order to gather books.
“The community came together,” Maribel Leal said. “Barnes and Noble was awesome, they donated boxes and boxes of books.”
The library policy allows the kids at CPS to actually take books with them to keep for free. Leal has kept the library stocked since its opening with the large number of books that are stored for it.
“People can still donate to me and I will drop them off any time,” Jasmine Leal said. “This project is not done.”
Leal also donated school supplies, dictionaries, coloring and activity books and furniture to the library.
“It really opened my eyes to appreciating things more,” Jasmine Leal said. “A lot of kids will be on their phones a lot, and I’ve actually started reading a lot.”
For her mother, words cannot describe how proud she is of her daughter making a difference.
“We should never take for granted what we are given,” Maribel Leal said. “There are less fortunate kids that don’t have what we have. Her doing this is an awesome feeling.”
Jasmine hopes the library gets even bigger and continues to grow.
“I hope it gets more recognition,” Jasmine Leal said. “I hope it gets to other places, not only the McAllen office. I hope other offices do the same thing as well.”
The Rainbow Room Library for Forsaken Angels was named for Jasmine’s grandmother, who recently passed away.
“I personally feel that these kids are being left behind,” Maribel Leal said. “I do work with these kids, and I just want our community and everyone to know that these are all our kids, and we should look out for them no matter what situation they are going through.”
Earning the Gold Award does not happen very often according to Maribel Leal, because most Girl Scouts tend to stop participating when they get older and do not pursue volunteer projects. Jasmine said she was shocked to find out she was actually receiving the honor.
“It was a really good experience,” Jasmine Leal said. “I never expected to be there, and just being there was an amazing feeling. A lot of people see Girl Scouts as meant for little girls who sell cookies, but there’s so much more.”