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Young women honored

a gold for web

Girl Scouts of Gateway Council honored more than 400 young women Sunday at its Young Women of Distinction ceremony. Girls were awarded bronze, silver and gold medals for their projects. Find more photos here.

Those earning the gold award, the highest honor in Girl Scouts, showed how they are changing the world through the following projects:

Katherina Albers, of troop 1202 in Jacksonville, built a dressing room for the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Shop. When the Thrift Shop opened, the store lacked a dressing room. This made it difficult for customers, the majority of whom live in extreme poverty, to try on clothing before purchasing items with their limited resources. Now customers can feel confident and comfortable in their purchases knowing that they will meet their needs. Through the project Katherina says she learned that time management and communication are key in executing any plan.

Jennifer Banks, of troop 1032 in Gainesville, planned, constructed, and executed a set of agility equipment for the Alachua County Animal Services shelter. She got to know the facility and its needs, and built 5 large sets of agility equipment with her friends, family and troop.  She used the project to help publicize the needs of the local shelters as well as animal health and adoption. She says of her project, “This project really helped me to see the power I have to accomplish a large endeavor and that even as an individual I can get anything accomplished that I put my mind to. My love for animals has only increased and I was rewarded by seeing an immediate impact by inspiring others to act in the community.”

Steffanie Casey, of troop 305 in Orange Park, wanted to ease some of the discomfort from stitches and radiation treatment following Breast Cancer Surgery, so she designed pillows to fit between their underarm and breast area. These pillows help keep the skin from rubbing together. By organizing this project Steffanie says, “I feel I accomplished making someone whose life was turned upside down from having to endure surgery less painful, so they could focus on healing. Through this project I learned that I can personally make a difference in someone's life with just a simple gesture. I may never get to meet any of these women who will be given one of the pillows, but I know I have touched their life.” Steffanie’s grandmother, and breast cancer survivor, Pat Reed will be accepting the award on her behalf.

Sarah Evans, a first year at Smith college, garnered awareness and action on the issue of human sex trafficking in the United States. Through seven proclamations, one signed by the State of Florida, lectures to Girl Scout in troops and a conference, blog posts on Girlology, and creation of a registered nonprofit, she was able to educate others on modern day slavery. During her project, Sarah was able to make connections with advocates in Georgia, Florida, New York, and New Jersey, connecting two of the hotspots for human trafficking in an effort to end slavery. She says of her project, "Human Trafficking is a global issue that not many associate with their home. Many people think that it is this far off problem that affects underdeveloped nations and other countries. They cannot comprehend that it would affect the United States of America, the land of the free. But it does. This is why my project was important. To educate others so we can change the world. Through my project I learned life values and skills that I will forever use wherever I go and am eternally grateful for the experience and drive Girl Scouting has imparted on me over my 12 years."

Julia Faherty, of troop 657 in St. Johns, educated young people on financial literacy by offering a web-based course, “Common Cents”, available 24 hours, 7 days a week. Her program explores fiscal awareness by explaining a wide array of bank accounts, lines of credit, loans, and much more. This information was especially useful for those transitioning from high school into college and the workforce.  Julia recalls of her project, “I learned how to be a better project manager by persevering when an idea didn’t work out and being willing to try something new.”

Regan Foote, of troop 531 in Jacksonville, created a YouTube channel called "Quick Curator" to promote awareness of museums and artifacts as an educational resource for teachers and students.  Using the popular medium of YouTube, Regan created 18 different episodes that have been watched over 5,500 times. The short videos are perfect for the classroom and are even being incorporated into a local elementary gifted program. Topics include iconic artifacts, like Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, as well as other unique artifacts and popular museums.  Through this project Regan has enhanced her skills in research, film editing and graphic design. She has interviewed an astronaut, an exhibit architect and museum curators.  In addition, Regan has learned how to use a multi-faceted marketing approach to promote “Quick Curator” including Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and print publications.  She also had a booth at the Riverside Arts Market with hands-on activities.  Regan says of her project, "Combining my love of museums and creating videos was a great opportunity to develop interesting and intriguing educational content as an alternative to conventional learning methods.”

Peyton Hager, a Juliette Girl Scout from Jacksonville, has always been enthusiastic about sharing her craft.  She feels it is important to introduce theatre to children while they are young, because they may not always have access to the arts.  Peyton chose to create her "Express Yourself Theatre" for the Extended Day Students at Ortega Elementary School. It was a wonderful way to "give back" to her alma mater.  She recruited other Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Theatre Majors to be part of her Gold Award Team, and they rode the after school bus from DA to Ortega to implement theatre activities. As they taught the children about performing, blocking, voice projection, script writing, and puppet making, Peyton saw the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders blossom and gain confidence. "I learned a lot from this experience, but my greatest accomplishment came when I realized the impact I had had on the children. Their laughter, hugs, and hand-written thank you notes were what let me know I had made a real difference in their lives."

Rachael Howell, of Troop 1244 in Jacksonville, provided a bathing station at the Jacksonville Humane Society to help animals find loving homes. Her project helped spread knowledge of the increasing rate of euthanasia in her community. She says of her project, “I wanted to show potential owners how beautiful these animals can be when they are loved and cared for. Helping them get adopted into a loving home may save another animal from being euthanized.”  

Hannah Hutchison, of Troop 315 in Gainesville, designed and implemented a week-long program addressing issues of self-esteem related to body image. The program, entitled “BeYOUtiful: A Girl’s Self-Esteem Workshop” was held at the local Girls Place. She worked in collaboration with graduate students from the University of Florida and counseling professionals in the community to design and implement a detailed curriculum for the program, which encouraged the girls to open up about their insecurities, think critically about standards of beauty in popular media, celebrate their bodies, and explore healthy and balanced lifestyle choices. Hannah created workbooks for each girl to use as a guide for the workshop and designed a website with step-by-step instructions for recreating the workshop in any community. Hannah says of her project: “It served as a reminder that everyone has insecurities! It was important for me to see that even successful adults and professionals, people for whom I have a lot of respect, aren’t perfect. I learned that it is just as important to listen to and support others as it is to discuss your own thoughts and feelings.”

Kathleen Johnston, of troop 1405 in Jacksonville, raised awareness of hunger in her community by organizing several food drives at local schools. She educated thousands of students at Greenland Pines Elementary, Loretto Elementary, Mandarin Oaks Elementary and Twin Lakes Academy Elementary about hunger on local, national, and global levels.  Her class presentations and videos were largely focused on the fact that food is limited, and because of this, it is important that we each use food wisely, instead of wasting about 50,000 pounds of food every year. By the end of her project, about 4,000 people had been educated about hunger in their community, and 7,530 items had been donated to the Mandarin Food Bank.  She says, “Through this project I have gained leadership skills and confidence. My public speaking skills have increased drastically, and I am much more comfortable conducting myself professionally. More importantly, I have realized that one simple idea can change how other people think and act; all it takes is someone who is willing to put this idea into action.”

Anna Kelly, of troop 1405 in Jacksonville, established a veterans’ memorial in the front of Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church to raise awareness of the sacrifices of current and past military. To fund the construction of this monument, which she did herself with the help of her troop and a veteran of the parish; she organized and led a fundraising breakfast resulting in excess funds. These extra funds were donated to the Saint Michael’s Soldiers ministry at her church which sends care packages to deployed military so that her project can impact those beyond her local community. She says of her project, “There is such a large military presence in Jacksonville, particularly in my church parish, so when I realized that there was nothing on the church campus honoring veterans and current military, I knew this was the issue I wanted to address. This project greatly developed my leadership, organization, and communication skills in addition to proving the impact I had made on my community through the enormous amount of support I received from my fellow parishioners throughout the entire project.”

Brooke Lawrence, of Troop 783 in Middleburg, built a Reading Center at the local library to make reading more engaging for Orange Park’s children. She worked with local businesses to collect donations, and worked with the library staff to design and implement the creation of a Children’s Reading Center at the Orange Park Library. She says of her project, “This is the library I went to when I was little, and the old reading center here helped me develop the love of reading that nourished me throughout my life. I was sad to find that the children’s area was not as warm and encouraging of learning as I recalled. Bringing that fun learning environment back to this library made me feel more connected to my community, and it also taught me that I can do anything that I put my heart into.”

Jessica Lorenzo-Luaces, of Troop 1405 in Jacksonville, created a walking tour through the historic cemetery of a local church. The aim of the project was to show people the history of the local Mandarin area and to encourage people to reflect on and gain interest in their own family history and personal stories.  This project presented information about the local area that was previously unknown to the public. It helped to make the history of the local area known and cause interest in personal family history. Jessica says of her project, “I learned that I am a confident leader who has an interest in history that I never realized before and that I can make a big impact in my society.”

Sarah Mann, of troop 145 in Jacksonville, organized a community garden expo and seed swap at Chets Creek Elementary to educate children and adults on how community gardens play a role in providing food for the hungry in their local communities. She invited local community gardens to talk with attendees and educate them about their gardens and how extra produce is provided to local pantries. Sarah also had master gardeners attend the event and introduced kids to gardening. She had many demonstrations and displays about gardening related topics. Sarah was awarded a $1000 grant from Youth Services of America to partially fund the event. The Nourishment Network pledged to continue to hold a community garden expo and seed swap annually.  Sarah says of her project, “I love to garden and am thrilled that there is a role for gardening in helping provide food for needy families. Through the community garden expo and seed swap, I hope that the general public will learn about community gardens, how they can participate and how they can start one themselves.”

Corina McBride, of troop 315 in Gainesville, initiated the ‘First Annual Earth Day Celebration’ at Malcom Randall’s Veteran Center in Gainesville; the nation’s largest VA. Her event focused on an individual’s actions and how they can positively or negatively impact future generations. Corina addressed her community’s lack of education and commitment to the environment by inviting local businesses and organizations to the celebration. The groups tabled for their cause and provided the tools for over 200 doctors, nurses, patients and attendees to make a positive change. At the ceremony she planted a fruiting Loquat tree that will continue producing healthy fruit and educating people for generations. Corina says of her project, “I realized that it's important to have a solid foundation and an idea of what you want to accomplish as things will not go as planned, especially if you have no idea what you want to achieve. I also discovered how crucial an empowering support team is. They pick you up when you run head first into dead ends, and dead ends happen. I also believe many people learned to appreciate, listen and respect girls because one-day we will be their bosses and presidents. Girls, you are the future!”

Christina Oakes, of troop 315 in Gainesville, developed and hosted an online course for teachers to help understand which accommodations are most beneficial to students with learning disabilities. The course entitled, "Easy Steps to Make a Huge Difference", allowed teachers to learn directly from Christina who is a student with a diagnosed reading disability. She shared with them the strategies that have helped her the most and allowed her to be successful in school. Video recordings from the live, synchronous sessions are posted on When describing the outcomes of her project she says, "This project has helped me grow and embrace my disability and not see it as the only thing that defines me. I was thrilled that the teachers were so responsive and I still get emails from them telling me how the strategies are helping students in their classrooms. I am so grateful that the course has helped them and will help future students with disabilities."

Emily Parker, of troop 1049 in Jacksonville, created a volunteer break area for the Jacksonville Humane Society. Having an interest in being a veterinarian and a connection to the Humane Society through the adoption of family pets, Emily wanted to do something involving animals and the community and this was the place she wanted to help out. Still rebuilding after the fire they suffered several years ago, the Humane Society staff needed things that were portable. The area included three picnic tables, umbrellas, and lattice partitions with flowers to improve the look of the space. Originally intended for the Kitten University area that was separate from the rest of the Humane Society property, these items were not fixed to one spot and could easily be moved around the property. After helping the animals at the Humane Society, the volunteers would now have a place to take a break outside and relax. Emily contacted other offices throughout the state and her project was downloaded to a dropbox account so other Humane Society branches could get information about creating their own volunteer area at their locations. Through her project Emily says she learned the importance of listening to the needs of those being served, improved her organizational skills and developed leadership abilities while working with a group.

Sydney Perrella, of troop 2012 in Neptune Beach, helped raise awareness for bats in Florida by holding bat education seminars and building bat houses. A lot of people view bats as pests, and as a result, some Florida bat species are threatened. Sydney felt it was important to spread accurate information about these bats and provide them a home where other Girl Scouts can learn about them. She built several large bat houses, which can hold up to 300 bats each, and installed them at Camp Kateri and North Fork Girl Scout Camp, where bats were reported to live within facilities where girls were sleeping and eating. By providing bat houses at these camps, girls can now enjoy their camping experiences in a clean and healthy environment, and bats now have a home where their colony can live during the day, without being interrupted by sing-alongs and other fun Girl Scout activities. Sydney says that her project helped her discover what she is capable of and gave her insight into how to work with adults, as well as children. The project also increased her confidence because she realized that she can make a difference in her community.

Alexandra Raimondi, of Troop 184 in St. Augustine, created a Butterfly Wish Garden for the patients, families and staff members of Nemours Children’s Clinic to serve as a refuge and source of tranquility during the day. She was inspired to create this garden and approached the Board of Directors at the Clinic to present her idea. The Board was delighted with her vision and supported her to design and implement the garden.  The garden was opened with a Grand Opening Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.  All of Nemours staff and Doctors were invited to the event.  She says of her project “This experience has helped me to gain a greater self-confidence.  I know that I can undertake any challenge, even if the road may be difficult.  I feel that I have a better understanding of my strengths and weakness as a leader.  I am proud that I was able to make a sustainable impact upon my community.”

Kate Revels, a Juliette Girl Scout from St. Johns, organized a food drive, called Splash Out Hunger,  at the Saint John’s Summer Swim League championship meet to support a local food pantry and to help raise awareness of child hunger during the summer months. The swimmers and families donated almost a ton of kid-friendly foods to Christ Cupboard. In addition, she created presentations that were given throughout the season at swim meets leading up to the championship.  She spoke and gathered several donations through local businesses to advertise and market the summer food drive.  With a national statistic of one in seven school-aged children going hungry over summer months, the project was a crucial plan for the local cupboard which services three zip codes areas.  Christ Cupboard had just finished the last of the July donations in December and were able to add a secondary donation source with migrant workers in the Hastings area to their portfolio due to Splash Out Hunger donations. The League and Kate have agreed to make this drive an annual event and hope to beat this year's record and collect over 1500 pounds of food and canned goods. She says about her project, “I couldn't believe that there were children in my very own community going hungry every summer and I felt that we needed to address this problem. It made me realize that together we can put a dent in child hunger in this community.”  It is Kate's wish to incorporate the Splash Out Hunger project and to expand it to other community swim leagues throughout Florida and beyond.

Hailey Rosenfeld, of troop 1244 in Jacksonville, organized a week long VBS camp at All Saints Episcopal Church, expanding its outreach to underprivileged children and siblings of a United Way Funded pre-school. She created fundraising ideas, expanding adopt-a-camper, as well as pamphlets to spread awareness throughout her community about the number of underprivileged families in her area. Hailey was able to send 18 kids to camp with her project and was recognized by the Episcopal Diocese of Florida for her efforts.  In addition, she mentored other teens to take this roll in coming years, writing a how-to guide for teens to follow.   She says, “I hope that these kids will cherish their camp moments as much as I cherished mine growing up. I learned that the biggest difference you can make starts with the littlest people.”

Heather Sayeski, of Troop 1032 in Gainesville, worked with the Arts in Medicine program at the UF Health Cancer Hospital. She began with a goal of introducing writing into the program’s vast repertoire of therapeutic arts. This cause was important to her because she is a writer in her spare time, and felt that her passion lacked representation within the Arts in Medicine program. She felt writing could help patients and their families release emotions while creating a legacy through the use of a pen. She worked with two different groups and created writing-infused activities for patients and family members in the hospital. Through this project, she says, “I learned about being persistent, especially when my initial plans didn’t work and I had to rethink my direction. I believe that working through this project despite my obstacles gave me the courage to keep moving and the knowledge that I can will my way through anything I encounter.”