By Jeff Odom
Through hours of volunteering, dedication and hard work, seven local young women completed the requirements necessary for the Gold Award — the highest award granted by the Girls Scouts of the USA.
But, it’s not the thin mints that got them there.
The seven are among the 45 from the West Central Florida chapter who earned the honor this year. The locals are Lauren Goldsworthy, Jennifer Becker, Sarah Castillo, Katherine Johnson, Michelle Newberger, Victoria Arnold and Hannah Eichhorn. Each completed an individual project to lend a helping hand to others and better their community.
“I am just so happy that more people will be able to enjoy an experience that I like,” Goldsworthy said of her project.
Goldsworthy, a recent Sunlake High graduate, helped raise awareness for more assistance for the deaf at Tampa attractions.
Her partnership with a sign language club helped create the Signing with Stingrays project, which sent translators once a month to the Florida Aquarium’s stingray show to translate the spoken words into sign language. When one is not available, Goldsworthy created a video for them to follow along with.
“I combined two of my loves, which are American Sign Language and marine biology, and my goal was to make my community a more American Sign Language friendly place,” Goldsworthy said. “I wanted to provide something and make (it) more available to the guests and hard of hearing visitors at the Florida Aquarium.”
Goldsworthy said she was always interested in sign language from an early age because of how unique it is, and she wanted to use her interest to better the area.
“I’ve always grown up with people who have known and love sign language, so I wanted to continue with my education on sign language, and this project just so happened and turned out to be a really amazing project to do that with,” Goldsworthy said.
Becker organized games and events while raising awareness for her project called Make Every Day a Blessing. While at Steinbrenner High, Becker led the Optimist Service Club, which helped sustain her project at Everyday Blessings children’s home in Thonotosassa.
She said what she learned, while helping the children at the home, left her with memories and lessons that will last a lifetime.
“I just wanted to help out and give back to other people and those kids around our community,” said Becker, who is currently studying at University of Florida. “I was never really a children’s person before this, but just when I went there and saw these kids, like five kids would hook on your leg. … Even though a lot of bad has happened to them, they’re still caring.”
Becker added that she hopes to one day return to see the children and encourages others to do the same.
“I just think that going to help children that are at-risk, whether it’s the Boys and Girls Club or something, I think it’s really important for people to also be aware of and help a little bit,” Becker said. “These children’s lives would be so much better for it, and that’s the key part.”
Johnson, an Academy at the Lakes graduate, created a project to raise awareness of abusive teen dating relationships. The Spring of Tampa Bay is integrating her project into the center’s monthly programming throughout Hillsborough County.
Castillo, of Lutz, helped foster children at Kids’ Place create their own personalized life book, which let each youngster tell the story of their experiences with her project, Fostering Memories.
Newberger, a Steinbrenner graduate, used her project, called Our History, to provide fourth-graders at Lutz Elementary notebooks, photos, crafts and information to help them study history.
Arnold, of Odessa, helped teach kids about the importance of literacy with her project, Books for Children in Need.
Eichhorn graduated from Berean Academy in Lutz, which has since closed. Her project provided more than 700 books for the needy, which resulted in a library being established at Metropolitan Ministries’ local shelter.
For more information on Girl Scouts of West Central Florida, visit www.gswcf.org.
–Follow Jeff Odom on Twitter: @JOdomLaker