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.”

Bridget 3
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.

A Different Side of Girl Scouting

“Setting that example of volunteering, working together to make cookie season an even bigger success, is so important.”

We all know Girl Scout Cookies are not only delicious but life-changing: The Girl Scout Cookie Program, the world’s largest girl-run business, instills critical values in these young go-getters. With every sale, Girl Scouts learn the fundamentals of running an enterprise and the skills needed to be successful.

But behind every Girl Scout troop is an army of volunteers, including the parents and troop leaders on the front lines at booth sales: It’s a vast and coordinated effort to make sure our Girl Scouts get the most meaningful experience.

Volunteers at our Marina del Rey cupboard.

One group that’s instrumental to the success of cookie season is our team of cookie cupboard volunteers. Cookie cupboards, in case you aren’t familiar, are where troops go to pick up and exchange orders of cookies. To make sure the process goes smoothly, GSGLA relies on our amazingly dedicated volunteers who give their time (and sweat!) to running our cookie cupboards—many of whom also have other roles at the troop and service unit/neighborhood levels. (Want to sign up to volunteer at our cookie cupboards? Click here!)

We spoke with three superstar volunteers who return each year to our cookie cupboards: Astrid Fribourg-Martinez (referred to as AF below), Chris Steptoe (CS), and Rosalie Brown (RB). Here’s what they had to say about their experience—and why you should consider volunteering too:

Q: Why do you volunteer each year at our cookie cupboards?
CS: I love being around the excitement of cookie season! Being able to help drives me to return. I’m busy like other parents and like that I can put in a couple hours of work at a time.
AF: I love returning to the Marina Del Rey cupboard because the people we greet and help stock their orders are so friendly. They are so appreciative of our service. This is my fourth year volunteering at the cupboard and it’s nice to see returning volunteers, some of whom I only see at this event. That makes it feel like a mingling party!
RB: It is a lot of fun. I have worked with these ladies for many years. Also, you see the pride in the troop leaders or helpers who pick up cookies. You get to meet a lot of people.

Volunteers at our Montclair cupboard.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories from volunteering at our cupboards?
RB: My favorite memories are watching the little Girl Scouts trying to pick up the boxes that are almost as big as they are. Standing inside that cold trailer until troops come to pick up cookies. Just talking and getting to know each other.
CS: Meeting new people, especially leaders whose troops and/or daughters are headed to college. Their experiences and stories are a tremendous help.
AF: I have met many troop leaders who swap stories and adventure experiences, which couldn’t make this a more enjoyable environment to work in.  

Q: If you are involved in other Girl Scout activities, what do you do?
AF: I have been with my troop for five and a half years. Right from the start, I helped take charge of certain badges or outings. Then once I experienced the system of Girl Scouts, I volunteered to lead a level (we are a multi-level troop).
RB: I am the service unit fall product chair for Compton/Lynwood.
CS: I’m a parent volunteer. My daughter’s troop is located in the South Bay. I help coordinate the events for our troop.

Q: Why should others volunteer for cookie cupboards? For Girl Scouts in general? 
RB: At the cupboards, you get to see a different side of Girl Scouting and make new friends. You should volunteer for Girl Scouts, because there are so many girls who need to interact with other girls, and Girl Scouts helps them find out what they want to be in life. It teaches them so much about themselves. The joy you see in later years of what these girls have become in our society makes you so proud.
CS:  Grooming the girls for leadership is a big deal. Setting that example of volunteering, working together to make cookie season an even bigger success, is so important. The girls will follow. It’s positive. It displays helpfulness. Why not help an organization where you’re directly involved? 
AF: I believe everyone should give some of their time volunteering for this organization, because you are helping shape the future leaders of our country’s communities.

Volunteers at our Marina del Rey cupboard.

Huge thanks to Astrid, Chris, and Rosalie for answering our questions—and for contributing their time and talents to our Movement!

Want to support an increasingly important cause while exercising, making friends, and having fun? Sign up to volunteer at one of our cookie cupboards! (Must be 18+ years of age; Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts are allowed if accompanied by an adult.) Our cookie cupboards are open Feb. 1–March 11, 2018, with locations in Arcadia, Covina, Downey, Long Beach, Marina del Rey, Upland, Torrance, Woodland Hills, Glendale, and Santa Clarita.

Want to learn about other ways to volunteer with Girl Scouts? Click here.