Meet Julie A: She Puts the Innovator in G.I.R.L.
The young women featured in this series have not only earned Girl Scouts’ highest honor by being named 2016 National Young Women of Distinction—they also serve as incredible examples of what it means to be a G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™.
For six years I was in an inclusive Girl Scout troop, meaning we included girls of all abilities, and I have also volunteered in the special needs community for a long time. From those experiences, as well as personal experiences in my own family, I’ve seen that because parents often have to dedicate so many of their resources to their children with special needs, the emotional needs of other siblings can go unnoticed or unmet.
When it was time for me to start work on my Girl Scout Gold Award project, I knew I wanted to address this in a way that would both spread awareness about the lives of kids with siblings who have special needs and help those kids feel less alone. Specifically, I wanted to tell the stories of young people who grew up with the challenges and joys of being a sibling to a child with special needs.
So I set out to create a comic book that would tell these stories and educate people at the same time. Comic books are an art form that’s not only fun and entertaining but can also make people think, and serve as a form of social activism. And the visual component of this kind of storytelling felt important because it allowed me to convey the emotions and experiences in a way that words alone could not.
In creating the final comic book, Adventures from My World, the lessons of Girl Scouts—specifically, how to work well with a diverse group of people, reaching out to others for help, and breaking down a big project into manageable parts—were absolutely vital.
After printing 8,000 copies of my comic book, I’ve been completely amazed at the response. The comic was first piloted by the Rutgers University Social Skills Program, and since then it has been widely embraced by organizations serving people with special needs, sibling support groups, hospitals, universities, learning resource centers, and libraries across the globe.
But nothing is as rewarding as being able to hear individuals’ responses to the stories. It has been incredible hearing them open up about some of their most difficult experiences, sometimes even for the first time, after reading my comic book. Knowing that my words, my work, can help people feel comforted, relieved, and understood means absolutely everything to me.