By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — There are many ways to make a difference.
That’s the lesson Girl Scout Troop 2479 learned during their Agent of Change Journey, a series of challenges that began last year, when they started fourth grade at Craig Elementary School in Niskayuna.
Members of the troop, now fifth-graders, wrapped up the final step of their project by delivering handmade activity kits to children spending the holiday season in the hospital at Albany Medical Center.
Each kit contained the supplies to make a handmade butterfly, candy cane or alien, projects that the girls decided would be fun for both boys and girls to make.
“It’s important for everybody to get involved,” Scout Mia Etkin said at a recent after-school meeting. “There are so many different things we can do for each other.”
This newfound sense of responsibility is due, in part, to the three-step journey the girls’ troop leaders helped them follow. They completed three separate projects exploring the power of one person, a team and an entire community.
“It’s sort of like when you drop a pebble into a pond,” troop member Katie Sumner said. “It has ripples.”
During the journey, each girl earns three awards: the Power of One Award, the Power of Team Award, and the Power of Community Award. Troop members and leaders can tailor the projects to fit their interests and needs.
In Troop 2479, the girls completed the Power of One award by researching women from history whom they considered role models. Each girl hand-wrote a short history of her subject and drew a picture to match. Together, they created a book that they could refer to for inspiration.
For the Power of Team, they worked with local running group Niskayuna Moms on the Run to organize a small benefit run around Craig Elementary.
They donated the money they collected to a memorial fund for a local girl who was killed in a fire.
The third award, though, proved most challenging.
“There was a lot of arguing and a lot of voting,” Etkin said.
The group started with a list of ideas that ranged from cleaning up trash to reminding people to pick up after their dogs around town.
“We all had different ideas,” troop member Lila Moll said. “We voted a ton of times and narrowed it down.”
In the end, they democratically agreed to help kids about their age who are currently spending a lot of time in the hospital.
“They don’t get to do everything we get to do,” Moll said.
After a great deal of planning and preparation, the troop spent a very productive meeting putting the kits together assembly-line style. Some girls cut out instructions for the crafts, while others counted out pom-poms and beads or filled and sealed plastic bags.
They all went together to Albany Medical Center shortly before Christmas to deliver the gifts, although they weren’t be able to meet the recipients due to flu-season precautions.
In the past, the troop has worked together to collect items for the food bank and City Mission, make pillows for retired residents, plant flowers at Town Hall, and clean up after Niska-Day, among many other projects. This was the first time, though, that they had to all the planning themselves.
“I liked hearing everybody’s ideas,” Etkin said.
As the project wound down, the girls looked back on the decision-making process and laughed about the arguments and disagreements they faced along the way. But troop leader Kelly Whitley said the girls, most of whom have been part of the same troop since kindergarten or first grade, got along better than ever and grew up a lot in the process.
“I would say from the end of third grade to fourth grade to now, they are one hundred percent different,” Whitley said. “They are so much more respectful, so much more caring of what they say or how they say it and how it affects the others.”
Girl Scout Katie Sumner said the experience made her feel like she could really make an impact in her school and her community.
“I think it gives kids like us a chance to discover our inner power,” she said.
It’s an important lesson for a group of girls whose aspirations range from future art teacher to police officer, photographer, or chef, among others.
“The Girl Scouts aren’t just about selling cookies,” Whitley said.