The Benefits of Being a Girl Scout
Not all teenagers are content to rest on their laurels. In fact, there are 13 who haven't. Out of a pool of 250 applicants – who already won a Girl Scout Gold Award, no less – they earned the honor of being one of the National Young Women of Distinction, a recognition offered each year to Gold Award winners who show extraordinary leadership.
The Girl Scout Gold Award is presented each year to the top 5 or 6 percent of Girl Scouts ages 14 to 18, so to be in an even more elite category is clearly impressive. "Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) and an external committee comprised of high-profile professional women selected [the honorees]," says Kathy Cloninger, CEO of GSUSA. "Each honoree has spent one to two years on a community service project that has far-reaching effects in her community and beyond."
The 2007 National Young Women of Distinction were honored at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on June 12 during a celebration of the 95th anniversary year of Girl Scouting.
Two Shining Examples
Rebecca Schultz, 17, of Sunrise, Fla., is one of the Young Women of Distinction who will be at that ceremony. This high school student is seriously concerned with the deterioration of natural reefs along the coastal waterways. Under the direction of the Department of Environmental Resource Management, Schultz took action by constructing and deploying artificial reefs along the coast of Florida. Her awareness campaign includes an educational program for middle school and high school students.
Schultz says she had a lot of inspiration for her project, which started when she got her scuba certification and began going on many dives in the South Florida area. "It was then I noticed that many of the coral reefs were deteriorating," she says. "I really wanted to do something about it."
Schultz's project has actually been taken up by the Marine Biology class at South Plantation High School. The middle schools will continue with the educational program as well as maintain the monitoring at the reef sites. This summer, Schultz will work with the teacher to help incorporate the project in her course. This fall, despite being at college, Schultz will be close enough to help with several of the outreach events.
When asked what she learned from her experience, Schultz says, "I have learned many skills. Time management, money management, people skills, an ability to give proper directions for things that need to be done and the strength and motivation to get a project up and moving are a few of them. They're all a part of leadership."
Schultz hopes that other teens will learn about the importance of their waterway environments and how we affect them without really thinking about it. "As we become more aware of our environment, hopefully we will work to preserve it," she says. "It is important for everyone to know that even as one person, we can make a difference."
The project began as a relatively small idea, to help provide for a stable environment for corals and other marine life, to clean up and maybe establish a small artificial reef. As time went on, Schultz says it was clear that community awareness was even more important. The project grew as more people and organizations became aware. "My one small voice has become many – one reef ball has become several dozen," she says. "I hope that by seeing what I have been able to accomplish, the project will also give teens a little encouragement to come up with their own ideas to help the environment. Be creative, be flexible, it can be done!"
Another of the 13 honorees is Elizabeth Okrutny, 18, of Tipp City, Ohio. Knowing that the hometown police department was too small to employ a sketch artist, Okrutny saw a need to produce composite computerized drawings with minimum effort. After presenting her initial findings to the chief of police, Okrutny implemented a software solution, along with a training and reference guide. The Tipp City Police Department was able to put her tools to work in order to apprehend criminals.
Okrutny's choice of a career in forensics and facial reconstruction led her to contact the police department to learn about needs they had that could be served by a Gold Award project. "Upon learning about the value of composite sketches to investigators and the time and cost obstacles that keep this tool beyond the reach of many police departments, I knew I could apply my art and computer skills to develop a means to make the ability to produce composite drawings possible for any law enforcement agency," she says.
A Girl Scout Gold Award project is required to include a plan for its continuation or maintenance after the project is completed. An animated self-study class, quick reference document and training instructions document that Oktrutny developed will allow training to continue. Electronic versions are also available for other agencies. The teaching elements have been made available to Okrutny's university, and she'll be using resources to teach facial compositing to gifted high school students this summer.
"From doing my project, I know that I can do the career I've chosen and that it's the right choice for me," Okrutny says. "By pursuing something you're interested in, you can have an impact on those around you that you might not have thought about. Work on things that interest you, but look around every once in a while to see what it does to everybody else."
"The 2007 National Young Women of Distinction epitomize Girl Scouting as the world's best leadership experience for girls," Cloninger says. "By discovering, connecting and taking action, these inspiring teenagers are defining what it means to be a female leader in today's global society."