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Leyna Nguyen, a graduate of Concord High School, was one of four Bay Area youth to participate in the Student Leaders Program this summer, which included a trip to Washington, D.C., and a paid internship at Junior Achievement of Northern California.

Courtesy of Jackie Welch

Leyna Nguyen, a graduate of Concord High School, was one of four Bay Area youths to participate in the Student Leaders Program this summer, which included a trip to Washington, D.C., and a paid internship at Junior Achievement of Northern California.

Courtesy of Jackie Welch

Leyna Nguyen, a graduate of Concord High School, was one of four Bay Area youths to participate in the Student Leaders Program this summer, which included a trip to Washington, D.C., and a paid internship at Junior Achievement of Northern California.

By Jennifer Shaw

Leyna Nguyen has long been inspired to give back -- and a summer leadership experience has given her a dose of confidence to make an even greater difference.

"My parents laid the foundation for my altruistic spirit," Leyna, 17, says of their immigrating to the United States, leaving family behind, to give her a better opportunity -- and her ensuing outreach teaching Vietnamese, volunteering at a senior care facility, and an intrinsic motivation to "make my parents proud."

She was already familiar with being "part of something bigger than herself" and now knows that there's an even bigger scope where she can help.


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Through an eight-week leadership program, the graduate of Concord High School has had a summer of firsts: attending a professional baseball game; riding on an airplane; and visiting some of the nation's monuments.

Leyna's credentials and spirit expressed in her personal statement had caught the eye of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation for its annual Student Leaders Program from a Bay Area pool of 240 applicants.

Her outlook then stood out from the crowd of 25 who made it to the interview phase.

"It was her energy. She's so positive, gracious and grateful for the opportunity to help her change her life (and career) path," says Kelly Larkan, a vice president and community relations manager at Bank of America, who oversaw the program. "You could just tell she was going to soak herself in this (experience)."

Leyna was among the seven selected for the leadership program and was among the four Bay Area youth who participated in a paid internship at Junior Achievement of Northern California.

Working out of its Walnut Creek office, Leyna got experience in fundraising, budgeting and taught a class in financial literacy at a low-income school in Oakland.

"It was clear from the first time I saw Leyna's application that she was genuinely inspired to help others. I appreciated that she not only spoke about her aspirations for creating a positive change in the future, but she was also able to provide specific examples of contributions she's already made in her community," says Larkan.

"This is a big part of who she is. It's her way of giving back to her culture and to improve language barriers," Larkan adds.

The Student Leaders Program, which included a trip to Washington, D.C. where participants met with 300 of the nation's leaders, attending panel discussions about global issues and Capitol Hill briefings, offers education and training for the underserved demographic to secure future fruitful employment.

For Leyna, an incoming freshman at UC-Berkeley, that path is leading her toward a career in public health.

She attributes her mother's illness and hospitalization, resulting from her not seeking medical intervention -- and relatives in Vietnam not getting requisite treatment or pharmaceuticals -- for her interest in the health care field.

The leadership and internship experience has infused her with a conviction to succeed.

"It's really motivated me to go for what I'm passionate about. We got the message that age doesn't matter; it's the change you create that matters; and that's empowered me," she says.

"It's changed my outlook on the world," Leyna adds of their learning about such global issues as food deserts, poverty, homelessness and impediments to access of key social services.

"This program has opened her mind to current issues facing the world today and she now feels equipped with the tools she needs to create change," Larkan says.