Going Gold: Meet Our National Young Women of Distinction Nominees

The school year’s winding down and troops are bridging to the next level—but we’re gearing up for the Gold Award Ceremony on June 3, where we’ll be honoring 256 Girl Scouts who’ve earned Girl Scouting’s highest achievement: the Gold Award. In order to earn the honor, Girl Scouts must complete a large-scale Take Action project that makes a sustainable impact on their communities and beyond. Only a small percentage of Girl Scouts achieve the prestigious Gold Award, which qualifies them for scholarships and other incentives.

Each year, Girl Scouts of the USA selects 10 exceptional Gold Award Girl Scouts as National Young Women of Distinction—girls whose projects demonstrated extraordinary leadership and addressed a local challenge related to a national (or even global) issue. Every council submits nominees for the national distinction. We spoke with GSGLA’s 2017 nominees to find out how they embody what it means to be a G.I.R.L., making an incredible difference in the world. Read their stories about their Gold Award projects below.

Yue _Cherry_ Ying#B398Cherry Ying, Troop 2935, Ambassador Girl Scout
Girl Scout Journey: “I’d never heard about anything like Girl Scouts until I came to the U.S. three years ago by myself from China. When I learned that Girl Scouts helps girls make the world a better place, I joined right away.”
Inspiration: “Growing up in Ningbo, China, I’d never seen a hospital with hand sanitizer; quite frankly, I didn’t even know hand sanitizer existed. During my years in the U.S., I interned for a pediatrician, where I was amazed by the amount of hand sanitizer everywhere. This really motivated me to bring Americans’ strong health awareness to my hometown.”

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School lecture on hand sanitizer in Ningbo, China.

Summary: “My project, ‘Hand in Hand,’ took place in both the U.S. and China. I fundraised and brought 90 bottles of hand sanitizer to community hospitals in Ningbo, created brochures and posters, hosted school lectures, and taught residents in the hospitals how to properly use hand sanitizer.”

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Cherry delivering hand sanitizer.

Impact: “My project help jumpstart a government-sponsored program to distribute hand sanitizer every month to community hospitals.”
Future: “I want to become a decision scientist (a type of data scientist) and use mathematics, equations, data analytics, and technology to solve the world’s existing problems, such as cancer.”
Why Go For Gold?: “Pursuing the Gold Award can be a great conclusion to the Girl Scout journey and an amazing start of something big in the future.”
Fun Fact: “My first language is not Mandarin or Cantonese or English—it’s Ningbo dialect. It’s funny that even though [in China] we all speak Chinese, if we speak in our own dialect, people from another region won’t understand us; thus, it’s like a completely different language.”

Eleanor FausettEllie Fausett, Troop 1751, Ambassador Girl Scout
Girl Scout Journey: “I’ve been a Girl Scout for the past nine years, and Girl Scouts has been a big part of my life since the girls in my troop are my best friends.”
Inspiration: “I work at Glendale Adventist Medical Center in the pediatric occupational therapy unit. I help get kids in and out of their jackets and coats because they do not have fine motor skills. The existing tools [for teaching the kids] were not engaging and very repetitive.”
Summary: “I wanted to combine teaching dressing skills with playing dress-up, so I made sensory integration dressing vests. After sewing the vests by myself, I taught therapists about them and showed them how they can be used. Also, I created a website, dresswithoutstress.help, where adults can go and learn about my project and how sensory integration therapy works.”

Impact: “My project helped improve the lives of the children who use the vests since they can learn the skills they need faster. Also, other individuals who read my website will learn about fine motor therapy and different ways for dressing assistance.”
Future: “I would like to go to college and study early childhood brain development. I would then like to become a pediatric occupational therapist.”
Why Go For Gold?: “My Gold Award taught me so much about myself. I would recommend this experience to anyone who wants to grow as a person and help change their community.”
Fun Fact: “I have taken four years of French and hope to become fluent. Also, I am learning sign language so I can communicate with the children I work with who can’t speak.”

Bridget GehenBridget Gehan, Troop 1912, Ambassador Girl Scout
Girl Scout Journey: “I started Girl Scouts in 2006 when I moved to Los Angeles from Morristown, New Jersey and it was the first place I felt accepted in my new life. It has been an incredible experience that I would not change for the world.”
Inspiration: “‘Empowering Teenagers Against Alzheimer’s (ETAA)’ was inspired by my grandpa’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in 2014 and the heartbreaking journey that I went through afterwards. I looked for something to help me understand what was happening to Pop Pop and how I could help, but everything available was for small children who couldn’t comprehend the disease or for adults focusing on medical, financial, and insurance issues.”

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Bridget with her grandpa, who inspired her Gold Award project.

Summary: ETAA is an internet-based educational outreach program for teenagers and young adults who have been touched by this disease in one way or another. In creating this program, I had to do in-depth research about Alzheimer’s, interview scientists, social workers, and countless teenagers to get an accurate perspective of the entire problem. I then spent months storyboarding, filming, interviewing, and editing until my project was perfect.”
Impact: “Since the official induction of ETAA into the Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles program, more than 800 people have been reached and learned from my work. These people are in 21 different countries on six different continents. Susan Galeas [the president and CEO of Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles] commented on one of my videos: ‘Incredibly successful way to educate the general public and a younger generation about this insidious disease… Your commitment and passion are making a difference!’”

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Bridget with a focus group for her project.

Future: “I want to go to a good college that has a strong program in business, public policy, or political science. I would love to work in politics and government to help make the world a better and safer place. It is my dream to be president of the United States, but I would also love to work as a senator.”
Why Go For Gold?: “Every girl should pursue their Gold Award because it is not only a gratifying experience, but a learning one too. My Gold Award taught me how to effectively solve problems and gave me the tools and courage to do it. [But] the most important thing the Gold Award gave me was the drive to finish and the understanding of how I can use that drive in my future.”
Fun Fact: “I have been working in my school’s journalism program for two years and will be one of two co-editors-in-chief of my high school’s blog and newspaper next year.”

Congratulations, Girl Scouts, on your nominations for National Young Women of Distinction—and for earning the Girl Scout Gold Award and touching the lives of people both far and near.

Are you interested in attending our 2017 Gold Award Ceremony on Saturday, June 3? Click here for details.

G.I.R.L.s Changing the World

“If you want to make a big impact, you can’t be afraid to think big too.”

Girl Scouts not only help their own communities—their work can even span the globe! Such is the case with many of GSUSA’s National Young Women of Distinction.

Pooja Nagpal, 2015 National Young Woman of Distinction. Courtesy: Los Angeles Times

Each year, GSUSA honors 10 National Young Women of Distinction who demonstrated exceptional leadership through their Gold Award projects. In 2015, GSGLA’s own Pooja Nagpal earned the distinction for her Gold Award project in which she developed a self-defense program for girls in rural India. Pooja now attends UC Berkeley, but we have another National Young Woman of Distinction living in Greater LA—2016 National Young Woman of Distinction Hanna Chuang, who attends USC.

Hanna Chuang, 2016 National Young Women of Distinction

Hanna grew up in Singapore, where she led her Gold Award project as a member of USA Girl Scouts Overseas. Noticing the stark income equality that existed in neighboring countries, she partnered with a small NGO to cofound a service club called READ (Rural Education and Development) Bhutan. Club members built a READ center in a rural village in Bhutan, and Hanna collected and donated more than 3,000 books to the center—and that’s not all.

We spoke with Hanna to learn more about her Gold Award project and how it’s shaped the successful young woman she has become.

What are you studying at USC and what are your career aspirations?
I am a freshman studying Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the USC Keck School of Medicine. As of now I am a premed student, but I’ve thought about going into research or possibly taking a minor in nonprofit management and also journalism. The dream is to become a doctor and work in third-world countries or to work for the CDC studying diseases and working on preventing or curing some of them.

How long did you live in Singapore? Where did you live previously?
I was born in Fairfax, Virginia and moved to Singapore when I was five. My family ended up staying in Singapore so I attended Singapore American School from kindergarten through my senior year of high school. I actually credit a lot of my project’s success to living in Singapore. Singapore’s geographic location made us neighbors of many developing countries despite being one of the most developed countries in the world. Because of this, people living in Singapore and those who attended my high school are very aware of the inequality that exists in our world and are open to hearing about hanna-chuang-1worthwhile causes and are generous when asked to help out. My high school is also extremely supportive of service initiatives which made the process of finding a student audience very straightforward and organized. It is also because of my high school’s investment in service that I was able to create an annual trip that takes about 20 students and two teacher sponsors to Bhutan and visits the different READ centers that are set up there, including the one that we helped build.

What was your biggest takeaway from this Gold Award project? What did you learn about yourself?
Definitely realizing that helping people was something I want to do for the rest of my life. I love working with women and children and will always be an advocate for equal access to an education and women’s empowerment; however, I wanted to branch out and study science and medicine to be able to help people everywhere, just in a different way.

What’s the most useful skill you learned from doing your Gold Award project that has been particularly helpful as a student at USC?
Besides getting to work on my organizational skills, I learned how to work with all different types of people and found ways to assess and recognize the needs of others and adjust my approach to cater those specific needs. Throughout the project, I had to be unapologetic about reaching out to people to raise awareness and also to ask for help and support. By the end of the project, I had collaborated with almost every type of group imaginable: students, faculty, and administration to start and run the club at school, business owners and adults to raise money to buy the supplies we needed (we raised $160,000 in one year), Olympic athletes to help raise awareness, people who work for the READ organization, and the women and children who live in Bhutan.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for a girl who wants to make a big impact with a Gold Award project?
If you want to make a big impact, you can’t be afraid to think big too. Your project could be inspired by something directly related to your own life, but it doesn’t have to be. Oftentimes, there are causes around the world that we feel strongly about but may be uncomfortable with taking action on because we aren’t sure about what we can do to help or are worried that the issue is too distant and complicated to be a part of. The Gold Award is great because the project isn’t just about helping and making a difference right off the bat, but also learning how to help in the process. Even though I lived in Singapore, I focused my project on Bhutan, a country 3,000 miles away. Physical distance from a project may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! If there’s something you’re passionate about, make it your project and if you need help, don’t be shy about reaching out to people involved with the cause for support.

We’re so thankful to Hanna for sharing her valuable insight and wisdom.

Stay tuned for more information on the 2017 National Young Women of Distinction. In the meantime, you can read more about Hanna and her Girl Scouting experience here.

You can also read more about the Girl Scout Gold Award—the prerequisite for every National Young Woman of Distinction—by clicking here.

Reach for Gold

For 100 years, Girl Scouting’s highest honor has stood for excellence and leadership. But not everyone knows what the Girl Scout Gold Award is (unlike other youth honors you may know). In fact, since 1916, one million girls have obtained the highest award in Girl Scouts, and have accomplished amazing feats and made a difference around the world. Take GSGLA’s National Young Woman of DistinctionPooja Nagpal, for example: for her Gold Award project, she taught self-defense to villagers in India, and started her own nonprofit to empower women and girls. Talk about making a lasting impact!

In addition, Girl Scout Gold Award recipients express greater satisfaction and success in life than their peers, according to research. And in the short term, Gold Award Girl Scouts are eligible for scholarships and can enter the military one rank higher.

But to really break down the Gold Award, we created another video—this one features our very own Gold Award recipients, Vivianna G. and Ayanna N. You can check it out below.

Ready to reach for gold? Get started by visiting our website today.

My Girl Scout Gold Award Experience

Thinking about “going for gold” and working toward your Girl Scout Gold Award? Or know a Girl Scout who is?

Guest blogger and Girl Advisory Bureau member Abby B. shares her Gold Award experience with us—inspiration for all girls striving to earn Girl Scouting’s highest honor. (And inspiration for staying in Girl Scouts through high school!) Check out Abby’s story below.

Pretty much my whole childhood was spent in Girl Scouts. I always knew I was going to do the Gold Award. But the Gold Award was always just a light at the end of an endless tunnel. It always seemed infinitely far away. But then it hit me—I realized I would have to start pretty soon. And I couldn’t really start if I couldn’t come up with an idea. So I actually had to sit and think about what I would do for my project.

Girl Scout Abby B. presenting on internet safety for her Gold Award project.

What is the Gold Award, though? [Editor’s note: We have an answer for that.] Most of the time, people describe it as the Girl Scout equivalent of the Eagle Award. And that is true. It’s a bit sad that it has to be described as the equivalent of a better-known project. To be honest, I’m not really sure why the Gold Award is so obscure compared to the Eagle Award. Hopefully it can become more well-known one day. It’s really a respectable service project. It really is.

So anyway, I thought quite a bit about what I was going to do. It seems as though many Girl Scouts do a garden project or collection project. But I wanted to do something unique and related to technology. I wanted to challenge myself to create an original project. Outside of the project I’m pretty interested in computers and video games. My dad works with computers too, so I suppose I knew what I was going to do. I discussed a project about internet safety with him, and he wanted me to do an ambitious project about protecting investors’ funds. I told him that was too broad, so I decided to do a more focused project—raising awareness about internet safety for kids and families.

Now I definitely did grow up in an internet-centric world. However, the rise of smartphones and tablets have made it much easier for kids and families to access the internet. This obviously has positives and negatives. On the one hand, during the course of the project I was impressed to learn how much parents did know about internet safety. I guess that’s definitely a positive to having easier access to the internet. However, on the other hand, with the internet now being such an essential part of our lives, it is easier than ever for criminals to attack individuals. I learned that even well-meaning parents may not know everything they need to know in order to protect their children.img_3254

So I did complete the Girl Scout Gold Award project proposal application process, and I had an interview. My project was without conditions, and I was allowed to start my project right away. To raise awareness about internet safety, I needed to have a concrete and measurable goal. My goal was to share a PowerPoint presentation about internet safety that I presented throughout Los Angeles, various schools, libraries, churches, Boy Scout troops, and Girl Scout troops. I also directed and produced a video about internet safety. After the video, I created a website about internet safety.

I started the project toward the end of the school year last year, but I completed most of it during the summer. At first the project seemed pretty daunting, but in the end, I realized it was a lot of fun.

Throughout the project, I developed leadership and public speaking skills, as well as time management strategies. I also learned how to do something actually productive over the summer instead of completely wasting my time. I encourage all Girl Scouts to stay in Girl Scouts until high school to have the opportunity to earn the Girl Scout Gold Award—it is an amazing leadership and community service experience.

Thank you, Abby, for detailing how you created and executed your Gold Award project, from start to finish. It’s a great example of what Girl Scouts pursuing the Gold Award can expect. (Troop leaders, be sure to share Abby’s story with your Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts, along with this link on our website!)

And for anyone who needs a refresher on what the Gold Award is all about, don’t forget to check out this video starring our very own Girl Scouts.

Will You Go for Gold?

What does the Girl Scout Gold Award mean to you? We’ve been celebrating the centennial of the Gold Award throughout the year, from our 2016 Gold Award Ceremony to our trip to the State Capitol. And we’re still striving to raise awareness about the Gold Award—the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve, representing excellence and leadership.

In a recent speech at the San Marino Rotary Club, GSGLA CEO Lise L. Luttgens expounded on the benefits of the Gold Award, and how it compares with the Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts and a black belt in martial arts: “What do all of those three things have in common? Long-term commitment, persistence, ability to stick with something, overcoming an obstacle, working as a team and working independently.”

But don’t take our word for it—listen to our very own Girl Scouts who’ve earned the Gold Award! Watch the video below.

Stay tuned for more videos from our girls, showcasing their hard work and drumming up support for the Gold Award. And if you or any Girl Scouts you know want to go for gold, click here to find out more!