Girl Scouts of the USA Announces the 2016 National Young Women of Distinction

This year’s recipients exemplified extraordinary leadership by creating positive change around the world, achieving the highest honor in Girl Scouting



Girl Scouts of the USA Press Room

NEW YORK, NY—Today, in celebration of International Day of the Girl, Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) recognizes its 2016 National Young Women of Distinction—10 young women from around the country whose efforts reflect extraordinary leadership.

As background, each year GSUSA honors 10 Girl Scouts as National Young Women of Distinction, selected from the thousands of exceptional young women in grades 9–12 who earn their Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. National Young Women of Distinction transform an idea and vision for change into an actionable plan with measurable, sustainable, and far-reaching impact at the local, national, and global levels. From creating an original comic book to support siblings of individuals with special needs, to developing a mock diagnostic activity to help young people learn about Ebola, the actions of these girls show how they’re taking the lead to solve today’s pressing issues, both in the United States and around the globe.

Applications are reviewed by previous National Young Women of Distinction, leaders from a range of professional fields, GSUSA executives, Girl Scouts’ national volunteer partners, and a representative from the Kappa Delta Foundation, which provides the honorees with college scholarships.

“Each of these honorees stands as the true embodiment of leadership that pulses at the core of our Girl Scout Movement and its mission,” said Sylvia Acevedo, interim CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. “Their selflessness, ingenuity, and philanthropic spirit have and will continue to have far-reaching, transformative effects not only in their respective communities, but in the world at large, with countless beneficiaries of their altruism. And through their actions, these young women have demonstrated their strong commitment to a life of impactful leadership that reflects the essence and mission of Girl Scouting, which is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”

This year marks the centennial of the Girl Scout Gold Award, celebrating millions of Girl Scouts past and present who have created, developed, and executed innumerable “Take Action” projects to make the world a better place. These projects exemplify the extraordinary leadership, grit, and collaborative efforts of Gold Award recipients as they lead the Girl Scout way, like a G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™. Approximately 5 percent of all Girl Scouts earn their Gold Award each year—and just 10 girls in this already high-achieving group are honored as National Young Women of Distinction.

The 2016 National Young Women of Distinction will be celebrated at a special ceremony this fall, and will present their Gold Award projects at a national leadership meeting convened by GSUSA in Philadelphia. To honor Girl Scouts’ National Young Women of Distinction, the Kappa Delta Foundation bestows recipients a combined $50,000 in college scholarships, reflecting Kappa Delta’s commitment to girls’ leadership and pursuit of education. In addition to the generous scholarships provided by Kappa Delta, individual donors have pledged to support the program: Susan B. Butler, former GSUSA Board member; and Sherry Harmon and Janet Harris, sisters and Girl Scout alumnae.

Meet Girl Scouts of the USA's 2016 National Young Women of Distinction:

Enerys Pagan, Girl Scouts of Caribe
Enerys, a resident of Puerto Rico, sought to nurture an interest in and love of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects among fellow high school students in her area, recognizing the lack of local extracurricular groups that allow students to hone in on STEM skills or engage those who are interested in related fields—which would benefit Puerto Rico’s economy and scientific advances. Enerys launched Jóvenes Científicos por Puerto Rico, partnering with 20 institutions, including three of Puerto Rico’s top universities, to provide her peers with resources needed to fully develop their STEM potential. Students who have participated in her STEM seminars and workshops have qualified for top awards in science competitions, as well as had their research published in a scientific magazine. Additionally, through her Facebook page, which has more than 875 followers, students have found a meeting place, where they can present their questions and receive answers and other support. Jóvenes Científicos por Puerto Rico, Inc., is now registered by the Department of State of Puerto Rico as a nonprofit organization.

Julie Averbach, Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey
Julie wrote, edited, and published Adventures From My World (AFMW), a comic book to support siblings of individuals with special needs. Specifically, AFMW helps siblings to express their emotions and recognize they are not alone in the hardships and joys they encounter. As one of the first comic books intended for therapeutic application, it is a proof of concept for comic book therapy. More than 8,000 copies are currently being distributed through hospitals, community support organizations, sibling support groups, schools, and psychology practices in 18 states as well as in Canada, Brazil, England, and Australia. The Rutgers University Social Skills Program has not only adopted Adventures From My World for its support groups but has collaborated with Julie to offer interactive workshops.

Sadhana Anantha, Girl Scouts North Carolina Coastal Pines
During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Sadhana realized that most kids are unaware of how science is related to global issues around the world. To give students a chance to explore certain topics not taught in school and see how they apply to the real world, she partnered with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to create a mock Ebola testing lab simulation. The lab introduced many students to clinical science, as well as methods used to combat diseases such as the Zika virus. One of Sadhana’s middle school students placed second at the North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair—exemplifying what she hoped students would take away from her lab. Sadhana’s simulation is successful as a current recurring exhibit in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ micro lab.

Ayana Watkins, Girl Scouts Heart of Central California
As the Black Lives Matter movement grew, Ayana believed it was the perfect moment to shed light on the persistent racial achievement gap in education—a key contributing factor to the pervasiveness of social injustice in America. Ayana organized a symposium in her hometown of Sacramento, “Education Matters in Black Lives,” to address the need for African American students to pursue excellence in education. The symposium provided more than 200 underserved students in grades 7–12 and their parents with direct exposure to college professors, admission officers, community activists, and current college students of color. More importantly, students were able to walk away with the feeling that attending college is not just a dream, but a necessity in combatting the ills of poverty and social injustice.

Hanna Chuang, USA Girl Scouts Overseas
Hanna was inspired and motivated to take action through her experience living overseas in Singapore, where she noticed the stark income inequality that existed in neighboring countries like Bhutan. In her sophomore year of high school, Hanna partnered with a small NGO to cofound a service club called READ (Rural Education and Development) Bhutan. Club members constructed a READ center in a rural village in the Haa Valley of Bhutan, and Hanna collected and donated 3,200 books to the center. She also developed a school-sponsored trip that now takes 20 students and 2 supervising faculty members to Bhutan for one week every year, to engage in service at the READ centers as well as cultural experiences.

Caitlyn McElligott, Girl Scouts of Northern California
Caitlyn's project was geared toward educating over a million people about trisomy X, a genetic disorder that affects approximately 1 in 1,000 girls and causes developmental delays. Born with this disorder herself, Caitlyn aimed to increase awareness and arm parents with positive, medically vetted information about the needs of a child born with trisomy X. She worked with geneticists to create a website and launched a media campaign that reached nearly 2 million people. She also worked with Kaiser Permanente to update and improve their materials on trisomy X for doctors and patients.

Hannah Gadd, Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana
Hannah created a documentary titled “Heroin: Drug of Sorrow,” targeting 12- to 20-year-olds. After losing an uncle to a heroin overdose, Hannah aimed to educate and raise awareness about the drug epidemic in her community, while providing educational resources for teachers and community organizations to use in the fight against addiction. Hannah’s project was approved to be added to her school district’s video library; and through a community viewing party, which included school board members and local state representatives, it played an integral role in the proposal of a bill addressing the need for additional drug education in all Kentucky schools.

Katherine Dionne, Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia
Katie created a program called “Sow More, Grow More” to help feed hungry children and their families in Hall County, Georgia. The program ran for 23 weeks and generated over 1,400 pounds of fresh food, serving 2,200 families. Katie worked with local farmers and gardeners to donate their surplus fruits and vegetables to the community food pantry for distribution to impoverished families. She also provided recipe cards (in English and Spanish) incorporating commonly donated produce, with information about low-cost meal preparation. The program is now in its third year.

Leyna Reynolds, Girl Scouts Heart of Central California
Leyna found that 19 percent of fatal traffic accidents in the United States involve young drivers. To address this, she created “Student Driver” decals and worked to get them into the hands of teen drivers throughout California via driving schools, insurance companies, and safety advocacy groups such as Impact Teen Driver and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). To achieve the widest possible distribution and use of her decals, Leyna worked to get a bill introduced in the California State Legislature that would require the California Department of Motor Vehicles to make the decals available to teens obtaining their learner’s permit. The bill was held in the senate to address potential costs and is pending reintroduction in the California Legislature in 2017. 

Sarah Greichen, Girl Scouts of Colorado
Sarah created Score A Friend, a nonprofit organization that supports Unified Clubs for kids, building inclusion in schools and communities. As her twin brother has an autism spectrum disorder, Sarah knows firsthand what it’s like for kids with disabilities to experience isolation from other students. With Score A Friend Clubs, and with support from Special Olympics, she aimed to connect schools with community providers and create opportunities for Unified Sports, Unified Friendships, and Unified Elective Courses. Currently Sarah has established four Score A Friend Clubs—two in her hometown of Denver, one at Louisiana State University, and one at Northern Arizona University. She also designed the Score A Friend website, featuring information and materials to help others start clubs in their communities. With her project, Sarah has educated thousands of students, teachers, and administrators about inclusion issues kids with disabilities face, and innovative new approaches to building more inclusive programs.

Earning the Gold Award and receiving scholarships are just two of the incredible opportunities girls have through Girl Scouts. To join Girl Scouts and find out more about the Gold Award and National Young Women of Distinction, visit and And if you're interested in learning more about Girl Scouts’ exceptional 2016 Young Women of Distinction, please contact their affiliated councils.

We're Girl Scouts of the USA
We’re 2.7 million strong—1.9 million girls and 800,000 adults who believe girls can change the world. It began over 100 years ago with one woman, Girl Scouts’ founder Juliette Gordon “Daisy” Low, who believed in the power of every girl. She organized the first Girl Scout troop on March 12, 1912, in Savannah, Georgia, and every year since, we've made her vision a reality, helping girls discover their strengths, passions, and talents. Today we continue the Girl Scout mission of building girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. We’re the preeminent leadership development organization for girls. And with programs for girls from coast to coast and across the globe, Girl Scouts offers every girl a chance to do something amazing. To volunteer, reconnect, donate, or join, visit

About Kappa Delta
Kappa Delta Sorority is a national organization for women with more than 250,000 members, 165 active collegiate chapters, and more than 500 chartered alumnae chapters nationwide. Kappa Delta is active in a number of philanthropic endeavors, including the prevention of child abuse in partnership with Prevent Child Abuse America and confidence-building programming with Girl Scouts of the USA. In 2009, the sorority created the Confidence Coalition to promote confidence in girls and women. In 2010, Kappa Delta established International Girls Day to empower girls to reach their potential. It also created International Women’s Friendship Month for women everywhere. Kappa Delta’s national headquarters is in Memphis, Tennessee. For more information, visit