For Girl Scouts who earn a highest award, adding the Bronze, Silver, and/or Gold Award pin to their vest or sash is a monumental achievement. Each one shows that the individual Girl Scout identified a problem in their community and worked to solve it. They wear them like badges of honor.
And then there are Girl Scouts like Elayna F. who understand their purpose and use their highest award projects as a starting point for the rest of their lives.
“By working on all of the highest awards in Girl Scouting, I was inspired to help people and make improvements in my community,” she says. “I learned that I love to help people. In the future, I know that is what I want to do.”
That’s why this fall, Elayna will be starting college with the goal of becoming a social worker. Her experience earning all three of Girl Scouting’s highest awards showed her that not only does she enjoy helping people in need, but she’s good at it too.
“Any change is meaningful,” she says when asked what she would tell someone who doesn’t think they are capable of creating meaningful change. “Sometimes the best changes are the small ones that may grow into something bigger. You may not be able to fix big issues in our world, but you can start small and still make a difference.”
Elayna started her journey toward making the world a better place with her Bronze Award project. She and her troop members assembled 20 birthday baskets for a women’s emergency shelter. Each one included all the supplies a family staying at the shelter would need to celebrate a birthday: decor, cake mix, candles, and a card. “I knew I wanted to help children and do something to make them feel special while going through a tough time,” she recalls.
For her Silver Award, Elayna was inspired to teach families about the significance of The Garden of Reflection 9/11 Memorial, which is in her hometown of Yardley, PA, after attending a candlelight vigil and remembrance ceremony. She developed a walking tour, including a pamphlet and worksheets about the garden and its symbols, for children and their families. Elayna also gave three tours herself to more than 150 kids and families.
“[Visitors] learned the unspoken rules of the garden and how to properly respect the memorial and all it represents,” she says. “The materials I created are still being used in schools today and the pamphlet is available to view and print.”
Her Silver Award was another step toward helping others and seeing her community respond to her efforts, which led to her Gold Award project: creating a mobile library full of books for kids and teens with dyslexia, like herself. “I was amazed that the school I attended was for children primarily with dyslexia, and we had no free reading books. Even though I have dyslexia, I still enjoy reading for fun. I wanted to try and instill my love of reading for pleasure in my classmates.”
Elayna started by hosting a book drive that collected more than 500 middle school and high school-level books for dyslexic readers. She then built a bookcase to house the donations and, because the pandemic restricted in-person visitations, Elayna designed a digital database so readers could browse books without crowding around a bookcase.
She also received words of encouragement to keep going with her Gold Award from someone rather notable. “I wanted to connect with a dyslexic author, so I reached out to Henry Winkler. I was able to have a phone conversation that was truly motivational and special. It was a turning point in my project and in my life,” Elayna recalls.
“The highlight of watching Elayna complete her highest awards were in those moments where she would push herself out of her comfort zone to complete a task,” says Danielle F., her mother. “Yes, she would be nervous prior, but she knew that she had to take certain steps to complete her projects. Whether it was conducting an interview, applying for a park permit, or speaking in front of the township board during a committee meeting, Elayna has pushed herself to her limits and that has been the most amazing part of the projects. In my mind, Elayna has broken the stereotype of what dyslexia is and is not, and I am sure she will continue to do so in the future.”
Elayna’s future is bright, thanks to her experiences in Girl Scouting. “Being a Girl Scout has taught me to believe in myself. If you believe in yourself, you can do anything!”
Girl Scouts really can do anything they put their minds to, including making a positive change in people’s lives—every single day.