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What would you give to change the world?

Religious warfare. Global warming. Illiteracy.

PhotoWhat can one Girl Scout do in the face of these monumental social and environmental problems?

Plenty, if she has the dedication and commitment required to pursue Girl Scouts' highest honor, the Gold Award, which the Girl Scouts of Northern California proudly conferred to 169 teens this year. For the prestigious award, girls spend months or even years completing requirements that develop leadership and culminate in an extensive service project that makes a difference in their community or even across the world.

Like Supraja. When the Northern California teenager learned that young girls in India were forced to move away from their homes because of poverty or religious violence, she traveled around the globe to lead programs in schools that helped these girls with self-esteem.

 

Or Becky, who took the lead in the South Bay during a week-long environmental crusade where she created and implemented practical ways for her school and community to be eco-friendly, including giving out energy-efficient light bulbs, planting indigenous trees, and constructing kiosks for recycling.

Then there's Emmy, whose creative literacy program in a Mt. Shasta elementary school removed shame and fear from reading aloud for young students - with a little help from a poodle.

Emmy overcomes personal challenges to improve literacy

Emmy's Girl Scout Gold Award project was personal. When she was young, reading was anything but fun - it was a source of embarrassment. At school, when it was time for students to read aloud in front of her class, Emmy's feelings of anxiety magnified.

Fortunately for Emmy, she had a haven at home. While school was a nightmare, Emmy's mother, Sheila, took the terror out of reading aloud by reading to and with Emmy for years until, around age 10, Emmy overcame her challenges. From that point on, Emmy was an avid reader and has become a champion for literacy and a leader in numerous areas, including Girl Scouting.

Because of her own struggles with reading and confidence, it's no wonder that when Emmy was deciding what service project to lead for her Girl Scout Gold Award, she choose a literacy program. Now a teenager, Emmy decided to return to elementary classrooms and designed a program where children could read aloud, not to their classmates, but to a more non-threatening audience of the canine persuasion.

Emmy took her pet, a standard poodle named Coby, plus a few other trustworthy dogs from friends and a local shelter, and spent two days a week for a semester working in an elementary classroom as part of her innovative Read to Dogs program.

Dawn Fryling, the teacher in the classroom where Emmy and Coby worked, agrees, crediting the Girl Scout teenager with helping her students see reading as fun, not frightening, and pointing to Emmy's integrity and commitment.

"The students were very excited about reading, being read to, and especially the idea that they could read aloud to their animals or stuffed animals," she says. "I think it put a very playful and light hearted spin on reading."

That's exactly the attitude Emmy wanted students to take away from her Girl Scout Gold Award project; rather than "an insurmountable obstacle" associated with fear, the students now view reading in a positive way.

Girl Scout Awards encourage girls to the highest levels of leadership

"The Gold Award leads to extended value beyond Girl Scouting," Emmy's mother says. "This broader level of service and the confidence required for it is initiated by project like the Gold Award."

While the Gold Award is Girl Scouts' highest award, there are countless other awards and programs in Girl Scouting where developing and displaying leadership takes center stage. Last year, Girl Scouts unveiled the new Leadership Journeys program, which allows girls at every age level to build leadership skills by discovering, connecting, and taking action. Service is built into each Leadership Journey with the hope that girls will carry a commitment to serving others into their adult lives. Emmy is doing just that, according to her mother, through a State Department scholarship award that has her currently taking classes and teaching English in Germany.

Leadership Facts at a Glance for 2009:

  • 169 girls earned Gold Awards
  • 13,520 hours spent on Gold Award service projects
  • 457 girls earned Silver Awards
  • 1,330 girls completed Counselor-in-Training and Program Aide Training programs at Girl Scout day and resident camps

Donate to the Girl Scouts of Northern California

You can make a donation online by clicking here, or by mail to the Oakland Girl Scout office, 7700 Edgewater Drive Suite 340, Oakland, CA 94621. If you have questions about giving options, please contact Stephanie Chew, Senior Director of Gifts at schew@girlscoutsnorcal.org or (510) 562-8470, ext. 115.

Gifts are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. Please consult your tax advisor as individual situations vary.