When Lauren H., now 18, and an alumnus of Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama, started thinking about social issues she could tackle for her Girl Scout Gold Award project, she was overwhelmed with the choices—there was so much she wanted to do! But in the summer of 2017, after attending Alabama Girls State, a premier weeklong youth leadership program for young women, everything changed, and her powerful G.I.R.L. Agenda emerged.
Lauren, whose interest in politics was locked in before the program, had recently learned that her school district had proposed a bill that would require Alabama high school seniors to pass a citizenship test in order to graduate, thereby ensuring a basic, working knowledge of the U.S. government. Intrigued by how something like that would play out for her and her classmates, Lauren was able to obtain a copy of the test and administer it to her classmates.
“We all failed miserably, and it really got me thinking about how little we actually know about our government,” she said. “Especially with the 2016 election, a lot of people had an opinion, but none of us really knew how things in government actually work. I wanted to do something about that.”
Following her time at Alabama Girls State, where she learned a ton about parliamentary procedure, Lauren came up with her Gold Award project: “Our country. Our voice. We are the people” where she put on a three-day summer citizenship camp for underprivileged middle school girls in the area.
During the workshop, Lauren taught participating girls about their basic rights and what it means to be a citizen. She talked to them about their state and federal governments, bills they might want to champion, and how bills get introduced and passed through the U.S. Congress. Then, Lauren led the girls through a mock Congressional session during which they wrote and proposed bills. The girls even studied the different positions available within their state government and were asked to write speeches as if they were actually running for one of those spots.
“When people run unopposed, there is no accountability, so it was important to teach these girls the importance of being involved in government,” Lauren explained. “I thought that was the best message we could possibly send to these girls—to be in politics just because you care and you want other people to care, too.”
Lauren invited Alabama House of Representatives member Patricia Todd and mayoral candidate Patricia Bell to visit the camp; the leaders talked to the girls about being women in politics and how important it is to get involved at every level of government. On the final day of the workshop the girls participated in a mock election, giving their speeches, voting, and finishing off the day with an election party—nice!
One of the greatest lessons Lauren says she learned from her project is the importance of understanding that people come from a range of backgrounds, so considering the experiences and concerns of others is key.
And one of her most memorable moments from the workshop was when one of the girls “looked me straight in the eye and asked, ‘Well Ms. Lauren, do you think a Supreme Court judge could rule that a child be taken out of an abusive home?’ I hugged her and said, ‘Absolutely. You could rule that and find her a better home.’ I wanted to make sure she knew she could grow up to make a difference in the lives of the people around her, and do something about the problems she saw.”
In the end, Lauren was overwhelmed by all the positive responses to her workshop. At the start, she’d asked the girls if they’d ever wanted to be in politics, and every single one had responded with a firm “no.” They’d all had the preconceived notion that politics is just for men—but Lauren quickly changed that. At the end of the workshop she asked them again, “Who wants to be in politics one day?” This time every hand in the room went up, and Lauren knew she’d made the difference she had set out to. That’s the power of the G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ spirit!
Reflecting further on her experience, Lauren said, “Politics doesn’t have to be about dirty schemes. It can be honest, and there are many people who are involved for no reason other than that they are passionate about something and want to help build a better world. I wanted these girls to understand that.” And she says she learned as much or more from the girls as they learned from her—including how much more it means to people if you educate them instead of just shoving your opinions down their throats. This way, they can really learn and go out and empower others to develop their own opinions and beliefs.
And of course, it’s so important for girls to learn leadership skills and know that they can be important players in politics and life in general, Lauren explains. “Our [girls’ and women’s] perspective is valuable. Unfortunately, it’s something that is so lacking in leadership right now, and it’s something the world needs more of. We need more people in power thinking, ‘How will this affect others?’”
In addition to her citizenship camp, Lauren created a website with resources to help high school students and teachers prepare for their citizenship exam and to encourage them to participate in government. She also created a curriculum to teach government to middle school students and “citizenship bags” with curriculum resources for elementary school teachers to use with their students—plus, in the works, training for the teachers on how to use the resources. Talk about covering all the bases!
Lauren’s Advice to Younger Girls, Her Girl Scout Experience and Plans for the Future
So what does Lauren have to say to younger Girl Scouts who are considering pursuing their Gold Award? Pick a topic you’re truly passionate about. “You don’t want to spend this many hours on something that you don’t care about just because it will look good on a piece of paper,” she cautions. “I had so much fun doing my project and it’s been so rewarding because it’s something that I feel very strongly about. So pick something you love and really want to make a difference in.” And yes, there will be obstacles, like having to work with people’s conflicting schedules, but stick with it and learn to be fluid and adapt (have a plan A, B, and C!) until you reach your goal, she said.
Lauren has been a Girl Scout since the third grade, and she’s seen big results. “Thanks to Girl Scouts, I view everything as a problem for me to solve. On some level, I can always make a [difference]; even small victories grow and grow until you end up making an impact you’d never dreamed of. I’ve learned that nothing is impossible and there are always people who are willing to help you if you just ask.”
She encourages girls to take advantage of the vast network of mentors and caring adults that Girl Scouts have access to. For one, if she had tried to complete her project outside of Girl Scouts, Lauren believes she could have still attained her goals eventually—but it definitely would’ve been much harder. She also loves Girl Scouts for the opportunities it gives girls and young women to take leadership out for a spin in a truly safe, supportive, and encouraging environment—a space in which they can develop their skills and get constructive feedback to help them improve, all while building their confidence in a major way.
A recent graduate of the class of 2018, Lauren is heading off to college soon to study history and medieval law. Then she plans to go to law school and either practice or become a professor. Set those sights high, G.I.R.L.—you’ve already shown you can do anything you put your mind to!