Meet Sarah G: 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)™.
My twin brother, Jacob, and I hang out a lot and share a lot of friends—but honestly, that’s kind of a new thing. We’ve always been close, but as we grew up, I realized that his life was looking a lot different from mine. See, Jacob has an autism spectrum disorder, which in a lot of ways limited his opportunities. By the time we were in fourth grade, I was getting busier and busier with friends and birthday parties and sports and trips to the mall—but he had none of that. No friends, no invites, nothing. And even though he never complained about it, it really upset me, because having friends is the best. I hated knowing Jacob was missing out.
When I got to eighth grade and needed to start thinking about a project for my Girl Scout Gold Award—the highest honor a Girl Scout can earn—my mission was personal: I was going to find Jacob a friend. The only question was “how,” so I did a ton of research and learned what I’d kind of guessed all along: kids with special needs make friends the same way any other kids do—through shared activities like sports, clubs, and other events. The problem was, there weren’t any organized activities like these for my brother or other kids with special needs to join. So I went to my school officials to see about starting a unified sports club, which would be open to kids of all physical, mental, and emotional abilities.
What I got was a big “no.” I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t let me do it—but I wasn’t going to give up. So I told them I wanted to start a club called “Score a Friend” that would include kids of all abilities so they could get to know one another better and learn from one another—but the school said there were some legal concerns and wouldn’t let me do it. I was so upset that they wouldn’t support something I really believed in, something that would make such a big difference in my brother’s life and in the lives of so many other students.
Soon after that, Jacob and I left that school and joined one where they had better programming for students with special needs like my brother, and also great classes for me. The best thing of all, though, was that they loved both of my ideas to increase inclusion in the school. Within just a few months, I had the Score a Friend club up and running. We now have unified sports, and even have a special week at school dedicated to encouraging kids of all abilities to hang out with one another.
This is the second year the programs have been running, and they’re already being replicated at other schools and even colleges around the country. On my campus, I’ve seen how they’ve made a difference not just in Jacob’s life, but in the school overall. We have unified groups of students going to dances and other events together so that everyone feels welcome to take part. At lunchtime, you go to the cafeteria and you never see anyone sitting alone—everybody has friends to hang out with. And these friendships go beyond school hours. Whereas it used to just be me having friends over after school, now Jacob invites his friends, too, and we all watch movies together or just hang out and talk.
This is what I always dreamed my life with my brother could be like, and because of my Girl Scout Gold Award project, it’s now a reality.