By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — The patches on a Girl Scout’s busy vest are cryptic to most, but one might be especially worth noticing. Surrounded by loud, bright patches, the most prestigious Girl Scout honor, the GOLD Award, is an unassuming starburst with a trefoil. But it represents a great achievement: a highly involved, seven-step service project that promises a continuing impact on the community.
“This prestigious award challenges you to change the world — or at least your corner of it,” according to the Girl Scouts website. The project itself must be fully planned and approved by a board of review before it can even be started, and some span multiple years of hard work before they’re finished.
In Niskayuna, just four of the most recently awarded pins collectively represent over 250 hours of community service, 2,000 fresh cupcakes, miles of neatly marked hiking trail, and hours of help for children with learning challenges.
Megan Green, a Girl Scout of 13 years, started her GOLD award as a freshman in high school four years ago.
“My project focused on hunger close to home,” said Green, who spent her freshman year planning, then founded a culinary club at Niskayuna High School during her sophomore year. The 25-person group fundraised like mad, then baked about 100 cupcakes each month during the school year for three years.
“You wouldn’t think cupcakes would be a big deal, but the kids get so excited when they hear there are cupcakes,” Green said. She estimates she delivered as many as 2,500 cupcakes during the project.
At the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Glenville, Jenna Appleton redesigned a room free of heavy books and environmental stressors for kids at church who struggled through a typical service.
“It’s redesigned for kids with disabilities such as ADD, autism and physical disabilities, as well,” Appleton said. Donations from local companies enabled her to repaint the room and fill it with supplies like puzzles, books and markers. She even added a rainbow mural.
“I visited them a couple of times and it was a really good experience to see the kids and meet them and ask them what they wanted out of the room,” Appleton said.
Marking a trail
Pyramid Life Center, a camp in the Adirondacks, reaped the benefits of Amanda Mullaney’s project. Mullaney’s family has visited the camp for 17 years, so she chose to place new, educational trail markers in some of the wilderness areas there. She celebrated the new markers with an educational program that encouraged visitors there to connect with nature.
“I wanted to do something that would get kids outside and playing outdoors,” she said. “That’s kind of being lost these days.”
Jenette Dziezynski earned her GOLD Award by creating a video to help Spanish-speaking families learn American Sign Language to communicate with their hearing-impaired children.
“I found out there were many Spanish-speaking families in the Albany and Schenectady areas,” she said. She then combined her Spanish lessons with her passion for speech therapy to create the free resource, which has already helped therapists in the area and is even used at a local college clinic.
Created to last
Each of these projects has one important factor in common: GOLD Award projects must be sustainable, continuing to benefit the community through education or other means even after the young women who create them move on.
Dziezynski’s video, for example, is available in the Capital District BOCES library free of charge for anyone who needs it. And Green’s culinary club will keep churning out cupcakes even after her graduation.
But even beyond that, each GOLD Award pin has significance for their owners, and for the Girl Scouts who aspire to be like them.
“We learned a lot, not just academic but other things, too,” Mullaney said. “You’re with the same girls all growing up and when you’re older you look up to the other girls, you think it’s so far away, and then you’re in high school and you see an opportunity for you to finally make a difference.”