Learn how local Girl Scouts are going for Gold Award 100 years later

The Girl Scout cookies are here. The sale, which began Wednesday, now has girls around Central Texas standing at booths outside local businesses. You’ll see the girls. You probably cannot avoid them. Be nice.

While the almost six weeks of cookie sales is the time when Girl Scouts are the most visible, they do a lot more all year long.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Gold Award, Girl Scouts’ highest honor. It’s a tough one to achieve. Only about 6 percent of all Girl Scouts in the Central Texas council earn this award — or about 35 to 60 girls a year.

The award began as the Gold Eaglet in 1916, became the Curved Bar Award in 1940, then the First Class Award in 1963 and the Gold Award in 1980.

It requires a girl to be a high schooler who has either completed her Silver Award as a middle schooler and done one journey badge (a community service/education badge) or done two journey badges. She has to identify a need in her community and create a project that serves that need. The project also has to be sustainable — something that can continue to make a difference in the community long after the Gold is earned. She has to put in 80 hours of her own time on the project as well as share the project throughout the community.

People want to try to compare the Gold Award to Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout Award. They are different in that the Eagle Scout requires 21 badges earned, plus a project; the Gold Award just requires a journey and Silver Award or two journeys, but the project is more involved.

Sharon Kemp, who serves on the Gold Award committee for Girl Scouts of Central Texas and has led high schoolers in her own troop through the process, says it’s not enough to want to build a picnic table for a nonprofit organization. A girl going for her Gold Award would have to also develop educational curriculum that would put that picnic table to use and continue to be used for years to come.

“They find something that they are really excited about,” says Laura Waldo, a member of the committee. While she loves to see projects that have to do with nature, “some of the other things these girls are doing are just unbelievable to me.”

One of the biggest tips Kemp gives to girls interested is to start early. “Don’t wait until senior year or junior year,” she warns. “They have so much stuff going on in high school. If they can start earlier, it’s a lot easier.”

It might take a girl a while to find that perfect project that is sustainable and a community partner that wants work with her.

The paperwork can be daunting because girls aren’t used to having the level of details in the plan required for the proposal to pass the committee. Often they have to go back and refine the proposal with more definitive plans for sustainability to get it approved.

The Gold Award is something colleges look at and even future employers. Some scholarships also are tied to the award, or it might help a girl get more attention from scholarship committees. If a girl with a Gold Award joins the military, she automatically enters one rank higher than someone without a Gold Award.

Jaclyn Sharp, 27, who now works for Girl Scouts of Central Texas as a membership development executive, lists her Gold Award on her résumé. Employers have mentioned it, as have college admissions counselors.

She earned her Gold Award by creating an art program with curriculum for a pregnancy crisis shelter in California, where she grew up. She had tried several projects before she found the right nonprofit partner and the right project. She did this while dancing several times a week in high school.

“It was a lot of work, but it was worth it,” she says. “I am the person I am today because I was in Girl Scouts.”

Ella Fischer, a Pflugerville High School junior, worked with Drive a Senior in Round Rock to help the nonprofit inventory and bar code every piece of medical equipment the nonprofit loans out. She also built racks to store the equipment. Because of her award, the nonprofit was able to apply for a grant to get additional equipment.

It took her about a year and a half to complete the project, but the result is something that will help many seniors, including her grandmother, who uses Drive a Senior.

She says she enjoyed every step of her project, even working in a shed in August. She believes it will help in her college applications to distinguish her from other people who have similar grades and test scores.

“A Gold Award recipient speaks worlds about who you are and what kind of work ethic you have,” Fischer says.

Lena Johnson, a senior at Cedar Park High School, taught 10 lessons on leadership skills for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department’s summer youth program at Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center in East Austin. She made sure the lessons matched the department’s formatting so they could use them in future lessons.

Kids ages 7-12 learned about teamwork, public speaking and the difference between hearing and listening. At the end of an activity, she got letters from campers thanking her for teaching them. She also could see that her lessons were having an impact. After she taught about teamwork, more kids started reaching out to the kids with learning or physical disabilities in their group. Before, the kids separated themselves and the kids with disabilities relied on adults for help.

Johnson worked on this project a year before she was able to start the work. The first two times her project fell through before she could get it approved, and she had trouble finding a partner organization.

“The hardest part was not giving up,” she says. “That made it more amazing than I ever thought it could be. I learned about taking failure and not letting it get me down.”

Sisters Kavya and Priya Ramamoorthy, seniors at Westwood High School, both created programs that teach about Title IX. Priya Ramamoorthy created a video and discussion guide to teach middle schoolers about bullying and gender discrimination. Grisham Middle School implemented it during their advisory period, and it’s been given to other schools to use.

“This was something I’m really passionate about,” Priya Ramamoorthy says. They first learned about Title IX as part of a history fair project when they were eighth-graders at Grisham.

Kavya Ramamoorthy focused on Title IX in science, technology, engineering and math careers. She made a video that gave the history of discrimination and how Title IX helped women go into more STEM careers.

Kavya Ramamoorthy says she grew as a public speaker because she is naturally a shy person. She had to talk to administrators in her school district and teachers to get her video shown.

“Girl Scouts especially allowed me to take this small idea that I had and made me branch out,” she says.

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