In 2016, Girl Scout Service Unit 72 in Hillsborough began a scholarship program to offer two $500 scholarships to graduating Girl Scouts. Applicants were asked to submit a short essay entitled “How Girl Scouts will Influence my Future”, where they were to describe their time as a Girl Scout and what they had learned through Girl Scouting. In addition, and most importantly, the essay should share how their experience as a Girl Scout has shaped them, and how they will apply these lessons to their future. We are so proud of all of our amazing graduating Girl Scouts – those who submitted an essay and those who didn’t. These girls are our future, and they are the result of a lot of love and hard work put in by their parents, leaders, and others in this community.

Below are the essays from the scholarship winners. We hope you enjoy them, and, are as inspired by them as we were. - The Hillsborough Girl Scout Experience Award Committee

2019 Winner - Jacqueline Brilliant

Being a six year old, thinking Girl Scouts was amazing and following in my sister's footsteps was a dream come true. I did not realize this experience would last for 13 years allowing me to earn my Bronze Award as well as my Silver Award. For my Bronze Award, my troop and I collected recipes to create a cookbook for foster families in Trenton, New Jersey. We collected recipes from appetizers to desserts. We asked family and friends to send their favorite and fun recipes. We told them, it was recipes to give to their children so think about what your children, or grandchildren would enjoy cooking. Trenton is our state capital and it is a very poor town as well as a high crime rate. The recipes were on the budget friendly side. We wanted the citizens to enjoy and still be able to afford the meal.

For my Silver Award, my best friend and I ran a blood drive inspired by our friend and fellow Girl Scout, fighting leukemia since second grade. We wanted to teach friends, family and the public the importance of donating blood to those who need it. Furthermore, we baked goods to sell at our own bake sale. The bake sale money went into a iTunes gift card so she and her family can all enjoy it. I taught my friend, how to make brownies as she did not know to read a liquid measuring cup! Instead of using 13 of a cup, she put in 1% of a cup. The batter became to oily and the brownie mix turned into mush. We had to start over.

My love of food even carried on to teaching my troop members how to peel and cut potatoes properly. This tradition ran for four years. Each year as a troop we made 10 pounds of meatloaf, 25 pounds of sweet and mashed potatoes, and over 80 brownies since freshman year. I started this tradition when I was in CCD back in fifth grade, and I carried it on in Girl Scouts. All the goods go to our Samaritan Homeless Interim Program (S.H.I.P). The workers at S.H.I.P go around in their van to the homeless in our community. Along with, all the volunteering I do for Girl Scouts, I alter serve every Sunday at my church, St. Joseph, for the past eight years. I am also a mentor for the younger children by answering their questions in Church and hoping they will catch on like I did. I try to stress the importance of being a responsible person, rituals and services. In June 2018, Girl Scouts presented me with an award lay for repeatedly showing my hard work I put in for being an alter server and I am receiving one in June of 2019. Knowing that I am able to use my leadership in Girl Scouts and in altar serving will help me reach my goal of being a GM for a five star hotel. Culinary Institute of America's program is year-round school for three years, then I will hopefully be able to find a job right out of college and find employment faster in my field. I am a very hands on type of person so allowing myself to be in the industry can change the world for me. Without Girl Scouts I am not nearly as prepared for college and life. I know my strong suits as well as my flaws. CIA is the Harvard for hospitality industry, and without my Girl Scout experience I would not be as prepared to be a leader, to serve others and I am a true G.I.R.L.

2019 Winner - Samantha Holt

Beginning as Daisies, my troop would end every meeting with a friendship circle. We all would hold each others hands, make a wish in our head, and then signal that we were done by squeezing the next girl's hand. In theory, it was a fun way to end our meeting. In reality, there was often more screaming during this five minute tradition than any other time we were together! Between the "OWww, she squeezed my hand too long," or "she's taking too long," this circle was not always a great representation of our friendship. Over the years, however, as we bridged from Daisies to Brownies and beyond, the girls in my troop grew to be great friends, supporting each other whenever one of us was going through a tough time. We all experienced some “issues” during our Girl Scout years, whether it was broken friendships, parents who fought, or the very worst, when one of us was diagnosed with cancer; we managed to stay together through it all and learned how to be strong when the others needed us to be.

During elementary school, our time spent in Girl Scouts included coloring “Color A Smiles," caroling at a local retirement home, donating food to SHIP, making annual trips to Camporee, and finally, earning our Bronze Award together, by updating the gym at WRS.

Moving on to the Intermediate and Middle Schools, many of the girls in my troop left, some because they moved away and others because they moved on to other activities they felt were more important. I, however, always considered Girl Scouts as my most important activity, one I never wanted to give up. Becoming an older scout meant more responsibility, and I was happy to begin to take on leadership roles in scouting. Hosting a table at World Thinking Day assisting the younger girls with a Camporee Craft, helping out at the ARIS Stem Summit and hosting a Summer Bash for incoming HMS girl scouts all helped shape my role as a leader, giving me the confidence I would need to further achieve the goals I had laid out for myself as a Girl Scout. This newfound confidence gave me the ability to complete my Silver Award on my own, by renovating the Nursery at St. Joseph Parish, and to complete my Gold Award in which I made pillows, blankets, and pillow packets, as well as hosted craft events to benefit Visions and Pathways.

There is no question that Girl Scouts has helped improve my leadership skills and foster a lifelong desire to make a difference in the world. Girl Scouts is one of the major reasons I want to be teacher. I believe that teachers are some of the most important people in the lives of their students. I am lucky to have been given opportunities, through Girl Scouts, that allow me to see the change that I, as just one person, can make in lives of others. I never want that to end. And while my troop's friendship circle is now comprised of only eight hands, our friendship is strong and our last meeting will hold a bittersweet sadness, as I squeeze the hands of my fellow Girl Scouts for one last time.

2019 Winner - Reilly Finn McHugh

I've been a Girl Scout since I was six years old. Since then, I've grown out of my small brown vest and into a mature, aware, caring, and strong individual. As a Girl Scout, I've had the privilege to participate in some amazing projects and events, impact the lives of others, and learn some extremely valuable lessons that will influence my future.

For several years, my troop held a patch event. The My American Girl Doll and Me program invited young girls and their dolls to a night of games, crafts and fun. I took great joy in combing through the messy locks of much-loved dolls and watching the girl's faces light up when I completed the desired look. This experience taught me how to interact with others, especially those who aren't my age. Talking to both parents and little girls was a challenge, but now I know how to successfully navigate a conversation with all age groups, and I will take this with me as I enter college and eventually the workforce.

In addition to helping with many years' worth of events and badges, I've earned my Bronze and Silver Awards. My Bronze Award focused on providing the less fortunate with pajamas. I'll never forget the image of that gym filled with pairs upon pairs of pajamas in numbers so great that the floor was rendered invisible. For my Silver Award I made short films about what it's like to deal with food allergies. I directed, wrote, produced, filmed, and edited the videos, and then uploaded them to the website I built which centered around educating people about the dangers of food allergies. After my project, people started coming up to me and telling me about changes they had made to their life in order to help and protect their friends and family members who had allergies. This made me realize how good it feels to inspire and create change, and has motivated me to continue to do so for the rest of my life. My Silver Award required a great deal of hard work, discipline, determination, and time management to make sure I finished before my deadline. These are invaluable life skills that I will take with me wherever I go.

I am incredibly proud to say that Girl Scouts has changed my life. Because of my involvement with this program, I will head into the world as a confident young woman with the means to face and overcome challenges. These assets will be invaluable as I complete my degree and find a job. Life isn't going to be easy; however, I believe that Girl Scouts has given me a leg up. I have the drive to complete my work, the confidence to head into scary situations with a smile, and the compassion to understand others. In other words, Girl Scouts is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and I will treasure these past twelve years for the rest of my life.

2019 Winner - Jessica Muth

I have been a Girl Scout for as long as I can remember; I can genuinely look back after thirteen years and say being a Girl Scout has shaped me into who I am today. When I started off in kindergarten, I thought of it as a fun activity, but even then I always recognized the importance of what we were doing. Before each activity, no matter how eager each one of us was to begin, we all repeated the Girl Scout Law: “On my honor I will try: to serve God and my country, To help people at all times, And live by the Girl Scout Law.” Reciting this, I never forgot my duty as a Girl Scout.

My favorite activity each year was around the holidays when all levels of Girl Scouts would pack into the school cafeteria and assemble shoeboxes to ship out to soldiers. We would fill these with candy, essentials, and even holiday notes. Doing something little to make their holiday season a little brighter for the soldiers made me proud to be a Girl Scout. Operation Shoebox is just one example of when I first felt fulfilled through helping people, but it is certainly not the last. Over the years, I have sent food to needy, volunteered for anything and everything imaginable, and even went door to door singing holiday carols. Through Girl Scouts, I have learned that working for the public good can be something as small as putting a smile on the face of someone. Whether it be the face of residents getting sung to at assisted living homes, or the smile of a sick person when they receive our prepared food, being a Girl Scout makes me never want to stop giving.

Aside from community service and directly helping people, through Girl Scouts, I have worked to help the environment. As part of my silver project, I focused on helping the earth, which would in turn help the people. Along with my troop, I sent letters and flyers around town showing people the proper ways to recycle — always taking the cap off of water bottles, and always crushing the bottles so they will not blow out of cans. I also made a video demonstrating the importance of recycling. This project, though lengthy, was worth it in the end. Even today, I still take the cap off before I recycle, and I never throw plastic bottles in the garbage can. By helping the environment, we were doing our duty of helping people, which is something I will never forget. This was my first big project where I hoped to make a difference, and after seeing the difference it made, in my future I will always look for opportunities to inflict positive change.

Although I will not be a Girl Scout after this year, I will always have the values of a Girl Scout instilled within me. Girl Scouts is so much more than a club to me; it is my childhood and more. Even when not actively participating in Girl Scout activities, I am still devoted to helping people, because it is now part of who I am. In my future endeavors, I hope that I can continue associating myself with helping people, whether it be through community service or putting a smile on the face of people. Even after graduation, I can confidently say, wherever life takes me, I will always be devoted to the helping people. Whether I go into Biomedical Engineering or Pharmacy, I hope to develop devices and medications to help people with diseases and disabilities. These fields are so appealing to me for the sole reason that I can use my capabilities to help people while doing something I love. If it was not for Girl Scouts, I would never have had this outlook to think about helping people as much as I do now think about it.

2019 Winner - Megha Sawhney

Being a girl scout was one of the most influential experiences of my childhood that will impact my thinking and decision-making for the rest of my life. I know that I am prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead in college and in my career because of lessons I learned and the skills I developed through teamwork within my troop and the leadership roles I fulfilled as a girl scout.

In my younger years, my involvement in girl scouts was my first experience reaching out to others for the public good. We visited nursing homes, cleaned the local environment, collected and donated to food pantries and animal shelters, hosted American Girl Patches for younger troops, implemented numerous journeys, and lent a helping hand wherever necessary. As I grew older, my love for helping people grew as well, through my volunteer work throughout my local community, my country, and my world. For my Silver Award Project, I distributed over 3,000 new and gently used books to the children in a neighboring community school to help develop their English language and literacy skills. Then I organized summer reading parties to distribute the books to the kids, which included an interactive presentation on the importance of literacy. I cleaned garages and pulled weeds for the elderly close to home and then reached across the globe to help others when I served on week long mission trips to Philadelphia, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic.

Making a difference in the lives of others is purposeful and fulfilling in an indescribable way. It is my greatest reward. Because of my early scouting experiences, I am certain that I will continue to dedicate my time and talents to my collegiate community and the local community wherever life will lead me. Furthermore, I intend to use the collaborative leadership skills I developed through girl scouts, as I pursue a career in engineering with the desire to advance technology for all people. I don't know for sure if I will help create more efficient waterways in Africa or if I will help make lighting more feasible and accessible in remote villages of the Dominican Republic, but I know that my path will lead to improving the lives of others, continuing to serve with the same mission and desire that was instilled within me as a young scout.

I will enter college and my adult life with the confidence to set goals and work hard to achieve them, have the desire be a friendly and helpful member of my community, and the determination to step up and assume leadership responsibilities. When I encounter obstacles, or have set backs, I won't give up. Girl scouts never do! I will always believe my impact to make change, lead with honesty and fairness, and be a courageous and strong community problem solver, while always striving to care for those in need, being a sister to everyone I meet, and giving back to the world I live in. The humble truths of the girl scout law will guide me wherever my journey leads.

2019 Winner - Haylee Sheldon

In many ways, Girl Scouts has shaped my life into what it is today. I began in Girl Scouts as a Brownie with a decent size troop. I remember having so much fun doing every badge we could think of including visiting our local Police Department. As time went on, my troop started to get smaller and I could not understand why anyone would want to drop out of Girl Scouts. Soon after this point I started to become a little discouraged. I missed all my friends that had left. When it was finally down to six of us, we ended up merging into another troop. I vividly remember going to the first meeting and instantly being thrilled to find so many uplifting girls who shared my interests. Together we volunteered for many activities going on in the Service Unit and my passion for helping others grew. I started to realize there was more to Girl Scouts than crafts and singing. I knew that this was really somewhere I belonged.

My new found troop finished badge after badge and Journey after Journey until we were ready to start our first big project, our Bronze Award. We all had a love for animals so we decided to help a local animal shelter. We put boxes out for donations of blankets and socks that we used to make homemade dog and cat toys. This award made feel very empowered and confident and from then on my goal was to volunteer more often and I started signing up for as many opportunities as I possibly could. My passion for Girl Scouts kept growing even as some of my closest friends began to drop out.

When it was time for my troop's Silver Award, the now three of us, put our heads together and decided that we wanted to help spread awareness about pollution and overfishing. We made a song with an accompanying video on Youtube. We did a presentation of our topic at a local agricultural fair at Duke Farms as well as the Health and Wellness Fair.

Finally, after continuing to bridge up further into Girl Scouts I have made it to my Gold Award. This has probably been one of the biggest impacts for me in all of the years of Girl Scouts. I had attended cooking classes as a young child put on by the Recreation Department and they were asking for someone to create a new one. I decided to make a cooking class for kids in Kindergarten to Fourth Grade. I have just recently finished the classes and am in the process of putting together the final presentation to the Gold Award Committee. In my time working on this award I found many skills that will be very helpful in the future. One of the biggest things for me was being able to find my voice. I persevered through anxiety inducing phone calls, meetings with the Hillsborough Department of Recreation, and talking to my student and their parents to overcome my timidity and take charge. I developed my skills of organization and communication. Working with kids through Girl Scouts has taught me some of the biggest life lessons that I will be able to use in my future. Girl Scouts has truly shaped me into the girl I am today and the skills I have learned will serve me well for my future.

2019 Winner - Dora Stefan Szegedy

When I joined Girl Scouts as a first grader, we were entrusted with simple tasks like caroling for the elderly and illustrating “Color A Smile” drawings to send to overseas troops and senior citizens. Easy enough, but it instilled in us a responsibility towards others from a young age.

My favorite memory from the earlier years was trading handmade Swaps at the annual Camporee. The more diverse our Swap collections became, the more triumphant we grew. The Swap portion of the weekend was the most awaited every year, and retrospectively, I realize how valuable it was to have face-to-face time with Girl Scouts we wouldn't have met otherwise.

Later on, after summers filled with Girl Scout camp at Dewitt and troop geocaching trips, we began to hold moneymakers for troop funds. We came up with the idea to hold a “My American Girl Doll and Me” night for younger troops, where we turned into hair stylists, fashion designers, and entertainers for an evening. It was a riot, and even more troops signed up in subsequent years. The specifics of this night involved multiple stations, such as a jewelry-making station, a clothing station where girls could make their dolls their very own Girl Scout vest, complete with patches, and--my personal favorite: the hairdressing station. I relished in fixing the knotted hairdos and creating intricate braids for the dolls. As the youngest in my family, I didn't have much experience with talking to younger children, but that didn't keep me from stepping out of my comfort zone and belting out all 16 verses of “Three Little Angels” during my job as the song leader for the music station. Dealing with younger children and acting in roles of leadership were two valuable skills I picked up from the American Girl Doll event every year.

When I moved to California for a year, I made sure to join a Girl Scout troop for the little time that I spent there. There, I attended my first Skills Camporee, where my new troop and I competed against other troops in activities like setting up tents and flipping pancakes. This was also my first Girl Scout tent-camping trip, and it boggled and thrilled my mind how these girls so eagerly insisted on sleeping outside the tent under the stars. This troop had a much different dynamic that taught me practical things about being in the wilderness with others, while my New Jersey troop, which I returned to when I moved back, taught me moreso about community service. Both skills are extremely valuable to me, especially because both involved copious amounts of teamwork, which I was not very familiar with before, and I know it will serve me well in the future--whether I'm adventuring or partaking in the working world.

I completed my Bronze Award, a celebration for 100 years of Girl Scouts, which I designed the logo for. I am now in preparation for my Gold Award project, which will be an effort to create coalitions with restaurants in Hillsborough to eliminate their usage of plastic straws that are so harmful to the environment.

I wasn't always so comfortable with putting myself out there and depending on other people, but from my various Girl Scouts experiences, events, and responsibilities, I've worked on developing those skills that I struggle with so I can be a more productive community member now and in the future.

2018 Winner - Hana Bahlawan

Being involved in Girl Scouts since I was in Kindergarten has exposed me to experiences and taught me life lessons that I never would have had the opportunity to learn if it wasn’t for this amazing program. Throughout my time as a Girl Scout, I have had the opportunity to host many events for younger troops, participate in journey-related projects, attend camps and earn my Bronze and Silver Awards. One of the largest, most impactful events that my Girl Scout troop hosted was a duct tape workshop. At this workshop, we taught dozens of younger troops how to make cute accessories, bookmarks, and more out of simple duct tape. It was a blast for the younger girls and seeing them so excited definitely made it worth it. Although organizing large events sometimes proved to be stressful, our troop received amazing feedback from parents who asked us if we would host more events in the future. Not only did we continue to host more events but we also expanded our registration numbers in order to reach more troops. Through Girl Scouts, I have developed a big sister role to younger girls, and have created many special bonds.

Completing my Bronze and Silver Awards were also two major accomplishments that I take pride in for completing during my time as a Girl Scout. For my Bronze Award, I spent countless hours volunteering at an animal shelter, where we interacted with the animals, made homemade dog toys and treats, and overlooked how an animal shelter is run. I loved completing my Bronze Award because I was able to interact and learn about something that I was passionate about. I knew I was volunteering my time to a good cause, and I loved interacting with the animals. For my Silver Award, I worked alongside two other girls to teach younger Girl Scouts about the importance of nutrition and exercise. We created different games and stations that the girls participated in where they completed an obstacle course, played a “Healthy or Not?” game, and learned how to balance a healthy diet every day. Because I also have a passion for working out and eating healthy, I enjoyed spreading the word to younger girls in hopes that they would learn something new. Completing these awards taught me that I love enlightening people and forming substantial relationships with people.

The experiences that I’ve had as a Girl Scout have undoubtedly set me up for success in the future. I have learned valuable life lessons, such as patience, communication skills, and organization skills that will assist me in almost any occupational field, especially communications. I confidently believe that I will be successful in my life, and I owe it all to Girl Scouts.

2018 Winner - Brynne Briegs

As an involved senior at Hillsborough High School, I can say I am many things: a dedicated student, a Raider, a daughter, a musician. But one of the things I am proudest to say is that after all these years, I am a Girl Scout. Those words have infinite meaning behind them for me, my twelve years in Girl Scouts have already brought me so far and will continue to help me reach my goals with the courage and strength I have discovered through the opportunities I have been given. My involvement in Girl Scouts has truly elevated the characteristics of success in me and will continue to bring out the best in who I am as I go into my freshman year at college. Although my time as a Girl Scout is coming to an end, the experiences, lessons and tools it has provided me with will forever impact my steps forward.

The most significant lesson I’ve learned from my career in Girl Scouts was how much we can achieve when we work together. The most prevalent example of this for me was the first time I volunteered with the organization “Feed My Starving Children” at their Feed the Need event. A gym full of strangers were able to produce thousands of meals for starving families living in impoverished countries around the world. However humbling it is to know the significance of how we helped others that day, it’s astonishing when I think about how much we accomplished because we put down our differences and worked together towards a shared goal. Throughout several service projects and Girl Scout events I have been a part of including caroling at nursing homes, running a service-unit wide camping weekend, or a Gymnastics Day accommodating Scouts from states all over and their families, I have had to work with others to bring these events the most success possible. How to effectively work with others is one of the greatest lessons we can learn before going to college and off into the workforce, and to have that opportunity since the first grade has given me a skill I will use every day of my life.

After completing my Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards, I have received so much more from the process than the title of a Precious Medals recipient. The confidence I gained from working with a team whose goal was centered around my dream is unmeasurable; without the self-awareness that Girl Scouts has brought me, I don’t believe I would be as successful a public speaker, leader and teacher to others – all attributes that facilitate success in furthering one’s education. While achieving my Gold Award, I experienced countless setbacks as unexpected some of they were, I take pride in how I found ways to make the best out of those situations. Looking back, I don’t see all the paperwork I had to force myself to do or the days I was so close to giving it up. I see the people I met along the way, the lessons I learned from mistakes I make, and the difference my project made in my community.

Wherever I end up next year, I know I may be leaving this chapter of Girl Scouts behind, but what I never go a step without are the aspects of Girl Scouts that has made me who I am. I have learned to be a leader and a team player, a student and a teacher, a confident young women, and most importantly, I have learned who I am. I am so lucky that I took this opportunity and that it led me to places that I had never imagined, and I plan on using what Girl Scouts has provided for me to reach the heights I cannot yet image. But one day, I’ll look back on what I do next in my journey through life, just like how I do now on when I started as a brownie, and think how grateful I am to forever be a Girl Scout.

2018 Winner - Alexis Feder

“We cannot hear you. Please speak up!” my teachers asserted. “I…” My voice faltered. “You need to speak louder, no one can hear you!” my mom interjected. As time passed, these phrases sounded less like words of encouragement and more like negatives. Frankly, I hated it. At the same time, I knew I had to push myself and improve my confidence in social situations. As time went on, I learned that I have a processing issue, and need more time to understand information or apply it, on tests or quizzes.

Although I was shy I wanted to be understood. My first step was joining Girl Scouts in kindergarten. I advanced and “bridged” from a Daisy to Brownie to Junior to Cadette to Senior, and finally, Ambassador. Girl Scouts helped me improve fine motor, communication and interpersonal skills. I learned to work as part of a team and share as a team. My social and physical skills increased and so did my self-confidence. I received the Girl Scout awards: Bronze, Silver and Gold. The Gold Award is the highest award a Girl Scout can achieve. It is difficult to earn. For the Silver Award, everyone picked partners to practice with. I froze with nervous anticipation. “Do you want to be my partner?” one of the girls asked and smiled. My new friend Marisa and her friends accepted me. With their help I developed confidence to speak in class. I received my Silver Award and decided for my Gold Award project would feed the less fortunate in my community. Although in a prosperous area, some people are hungry. My project was to grow a vegetable garden from scratch. The Hillsborough Presbyterian Church donated the land. I planted, grew, harvested and delivered over three hundred pounds of fresh vegetables to local food banks. I wrote a book helping other Girl Scouts learn how to plan, grow, distribute and most importantly sustain a large fresh vegetable garden. My book is available at my local library. It was hard work but also fun and pleasurable. Receiving my Gold Award was and is my proudest accomplishment.

My goals are to get into college and use my education to help others. I want to be self-sufficient and earn my own way in life. Because of my learning disorder, I need support services in college and will need to find the best college program for me. I want to major in early education. I am proud to have been accepted to Montclair, Rider and Rutgers. Nothing has been easy, but I know that I will succeed.

My wonderful experiences with Girl Scouts has helped me grow as a person. If it was not for the Girl Scouts I would not be where I am – poised to start my new life as a college student and then (hopefully) in my career as an early education teacher.

2018 Winner - Shreeshruthi Raghavan

I believe that my experience as a Girl Scout is full of sincerity and empowerment. Ever since I was a Brownie, Girl Scouts has taught me immensely about the importance of two things: self-worth and dedication to others. My journey as a Girl Scout has been able to and continues to make me a more confident and driven version of myself.

When I started my Gold Award application process, I was nervous beyond imagination. The initial interview was in the Montclair branch of GSHNJ, and I had never met my interviewers before. Yet as I started the interview, I realized that it was more similar to a casual conversation rather than a rigid interview, which is what I had been expecting. My Gold Award was centered on conquering cognitive decline within senior citizens at Brookdale Assisted Living Center in Hillsborough. Brookdale was kind enough to offer me 3 hour slots every Friday after dinner, so I could host games and activities that were proven to slow cognitive decline within senior citizens. Yet receiving the award was not the most fun or fulfilling part of the journey. The time I enjoyed the most was the time I spent interacting with the residents and getting to know them better. As the weeks went on, the residents at Brookdale felt more like friends than they did senior citizens. They would tell me about their life stories, and one woman even told me about her time marching against Vietnam in the 60s. It gave me such a sense of awe and inspiration that the people I was helping once took part in monumental events that gave me the rights I have today.

I think joining Girl Scouts as a first grader was one of the best decisions I have made or ever will make in life. Not only has it taught me how to give back to others, it has also taught me about self-respect and empowerment. I remember going to Camp Canadensis in third grade and having to present a mini play in the amphitheater in front of several people I had never even seen before. As nerve wracking as it was, it taught me that Girl Scouts was a place where all girls could thrive and be encouraged. I think giving back and empowerment will have the greatest impact on my future successes because they’ll help me attain my goals and aid me in helping others reach their goals as well. And that is what is amazing about Girl Scouts: you learn about empowering yourself while empowering others at the same time.

2017 Winner - Emily Duque

I vividly remember my first Girl Scout meeting. I was only five years old, sitting in my kindergarten classroom, and wearing my bright blue Daisy apron. I was surrounded by many girls and their parents, some I had never met, and some that I vaguely recognized from class. I remember being nervous, but excited, because I wanted to learn everything that I could about being a Girl Scout.

I vividly remember my most recent Girl Scout meeting as well. This time I was seventeen years old, sitting around the table at my leader’s house, wearing the same outfit I wore to school that day (I had forgotten my vest at home but we didn’t really need it that day anyway). Now, I was surrounded by girls that I had grown closer with than anybody else, since we’ve known each other for twelve years. A lot has happened and a lot had changed in those twelve years, but one that remained constant was my love for Girl Scouts and for my troop.

The things I love most of all about Girl Scouts are somewhat typical; I love spending summer weeks at Camp Hoover, and I love how popular I get during cookie season. But the one thing that is the most rewarding about Girl Scout is the service experiences I have had. One important thing that my troop always does is every year we volunteer at a collection drive for Rawhide Rescue, an organization that rescues dogs and cats and tries to get them adopted. We have been doing this since our first year as Brownies, and have done it every year since. It does not seem like much to just stand there and collect donations, but it has taught me one of the biggest lessons. In order to do community service, or to help others, sometimes it is the smallest things that have the biggest impact. So, even if you cannot immediately cause major change, any small bit of volunteering is helpful. This message will remain with me my whole life, and be what encourages me to always dedicate myself to service. Another one of the most resonating moments of my experience as a Girl Scout is working towards my Gold Award. I have not completed it yet, but my idea was to help Cross Roads Camp repair, expand, and build their archery field with a new pavilion. This project required so many hours of work and I had to communicate with the camp directors, with volunteers, with architects and many other people. Talking to strangers, especially adults, had never been my strong point, but I can easily say that this experience has made me braver and more confident in that aspect. My newly found skills have greatly helped me already, in things like college interviews and some other volunteer work.

Mostly however, the skills and knowledge that I have obtained through Girl Scouts will enable me to become more successful in the future. I want to be a math teacher because teaching and helping others is so important to me. Girl Scouts had taught me to be dedicated and hardworking, but also kind and caring which are the perfect combination of traits to be a teacher. Overall, being a Girl Scout has shaped my personality and who I am throughout my entire life, and my life would not be the same without it.

2017 Winner - Tara Wattal

A girl enters the world with a brain and a set of wings. Her sights are as unbounded as the wings that give her flight, and her passions are as unbridled as the triumphs that occupy her dreams. Ambition propels her forward from infanthood to adolescence as she takes on the world without a glance back.

A woman ventures the world with a brain and two feet. Her sights are as bounded as her wings (now clipped), and her passions are limited to the scope of her self-worth. She stagnates in her journey forward, boxed in by standards and expectations.

The disjointed transition from childhood to adulthood is not an isolated experience for girls worldwide. Without visible women dominating their intended paths, young girls see limited success in dreams that once absorbed their imaginations. Instead, they pursue alternative goals, despite the unique perspective they could provide in their initial objectives.

However, this narrative does not always have to be the norm. In fact, Girl Scouts “mended my wings” before I knew that they were fated to break. When I joined Troop 60392 as a shy fourth grader, I was unsure what to expect, aside from Girl Scout cookies and vests with patches. At the time, my primary goal in life was to “save the world.” Eight years later, I have not given up on this goal and find it impossible to offer my gratitude to Girl Scouts with a single sentence, let alone an essay.

Without the support of Girl Scouts, I would not have been able to pursue my Bronze Award, a Ziti for the Needy service booth, and my Silver Award, a skin care awareness project. Each of these awards introduced me to widespread community action, a pursuit that I hope to continue for the rest of my life. But most notably, my Gold Award was the highlight of my time as a Girl Scout and the project that I am the most proud of. Aided by troop leaders, local women, and my fellow troop members, I conceived, promoted, and led workshops featuring local women leaders, to empower girls. SheTalks attracted 50 attendants, 4 speakers, and an online presence of over 100 followers. Through anecdotes on passion, community, bravery, and advocacy, the speakers mended the girls’ wings and provided reasons for renewed flight. Yet, beyond numbers, I will never forget the individual stories of girls that SheTalks touched. At a political action meeting that I recently attended, I was approached by the father of a girl who attended a SheTalks workshop. I was honored to learn that his daughter still remembered her experience and implemented the workshop lessons in her daily life. Her story is one of the several reasons why I am grateful to be a Girl Scout and motivated to become an activist in every avenue that I pursue, including my future career as an economics researcher.

Girl Scouts illuminated new experiences. My troop brought me sisterhood and taught me empathy. The countless service projects and journeys that I completed over the years gave me a purpose. The organization served as a catalyst for my interest in feminism and social justice. And ultimately, Girl Scouts taught me that my dream to save the world is not reserved for childhood fantasy.

2016 Winner - Emily Washbourn

Each part of my Girl Scout journey has been rewarding in its own, unique way. Beginning as a Daisy in Kindergarten, me and the 14 other girls in my Troop learned how to braid hair, make friends, and live by the Girl Scout Law. Moving through the ranks meant that the lessons became more substantial and we were taught how to survive both in and outside of the home. Our time at Camp DeWitt allowed us to explore the outdoors, while learning to create a sling from a t-shirt, light a fire, sew and much more. For my troop’s Bronze Award, we worked with the Samaritan Homeless Interim Program to help make food and feed the homeless in Somerville, NJ. Our Silver Award involved making blankets for Project Linus, which is a foundation that provides blankets for critically ill children in hospitals. Finally, as the only girl in my troop to continue Girl Scouts, I am in the process of completing my Gold Award. My project involves educating students ages 11-14 about the dangers of driving under the influence, before they are placed into drivers’ education sophomore year. I believe it is important for driving under the influence to be as taboo as not wearing a seat belt, and the only way to do this is by targeting students before they even have a chance get behind the wheel.

Girl Scouts has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and has taught me many lessons that I will carry with me forever. Doing all of these activities has taught me how to give back to others without expecting anything in return, as well as the value in continuing an activity, even if no one else is doing the same. Between my Bronze and Silver Awards, I learned how rewarding it is to give to others who cannot give anything back to you. Helping those less fortunate than I opened my eyes to volunteerism and sparked a need to help others now and in the future. Girl Scouts also allowed me to learn that it is okay to continue doing something even when no one else wants to. My troop went from 15 girls to three, with me being the only one to work towards my Gold Award. Though it was tempting to quit with the rest of my friends, I stayed with the program because I truly believe in the message it sends, and the lessons it teaches. This persistence despite other’s opinions is something that I have only learned from Girl Scouts and I will carry the lesson with me for years to come in college and eventually the workplace. Overall, Girl Scouts has taught me the fundamentals of life and I will embrace these lessons as they help me achieve personal success and continue to shape me into a better person.

Follow Up: Emily Washbourn has continued her passion for Girl Scouts while in college where her sorority, Kappa Delta, focuses their philanthropy efforts on the Girl Scouts of America. Each semester, the students host a number of Girl Scout events where young girls are involved in activities to help them build confidence while having fun. The sorority sisters also give campus tours to inspire girls to seek higher education and serve as mentors to these younger girls. “Be a Sister to every Girl Scout” is truly in action with the Sisters of Kappa Delta and the Girl Scouts. Emily’s essay predicted that she would carry the lessons of Girl Scouting forward into her life as a college student and beyond, and she was right!

2016 Winner - Emily Van Pelt

Girl Scouts has always meant more to me than cookies and Camporee. Though I loved both, being a Girl Scout gave me invaluable skills. I am a strong woman. I am a leader, a coordinator and a hard worker because of the values instilled in me during Girl Scouts. Women today often fall victim to self-doubt and I am no exception. But throughout my years from Daisy on, my leaders and sisters pushed me to become the best I can and to ignore the voices that tell me I’m not good enough.

Juliette Gordon Low once said “Scouting rises within you and inspires you to put forth your best.” The fun of Camp DeWitt and the hard work of completing journeys and bronze, silver and gold awards showed me how an upstanding citizen and woman act. And nothing affected me quite as much as my Gold Award which I completed in 2014.

The summer before my junior year I confronted a monumental question; “What problem will I solve to earn my Gold Award”. My older sister, my role model for everything Girl Scout related, advised me to pick a subject I loved. I determined that Hillsborough needed a field hockey field. I’ve played since 2008 but had no designated space for field hockey. When I approached my township’s Parks and Recreation department, I was granted field space.

I also created a plan for a field hockey clinic. The clinic exposed girls grades four through eight to field hockey. Watching the girls grow as players made me swell with pride, though they insisted on calling me Coach Emily. I applied for a USA Field Hockey grant and received sticks, balls and cones. The playbook of drills and games I was sent was invaluable. Hillsborough Jr Raider Field Hockey was born, as a result of more than 120 hours of work, sweat and yes, tears.

Seeing the tangible result of my dream was the best reward I could have received, and well worth the anxiety I felt over having to talk to adults. The phone calls made my hands shake and my voice tremble, the emails made me second guess every word I ever wrote and don’t even mention the meetings. From the outset I doubted my ability to deliver a finished project. I had to challenge myself to take charge and become the leader I always knew I was. I led adults for the majority of my project. The summer before my junior year of high school I became a stronger person. I developed a loud, clear voice. I grew confident. I seized the opportunity to spread my love of field hockey and it worked. I succeeded under the pressure. I flourished.

Follow Up: Emily Van Pelt entered Kean University as a freshmen in 2016 where she continues to put time and attention into her local community by working on service projects with the clubs she belongs to. In 2015 the Junior Raiders took over the field hockey project and by 2016 the number of teams had doubled with over 70 girls competing as Hillsborough athletes! In 2017, Emily was contacted by USA Field Hockey who will be replicating her model across the country as part of a new partnership with Girl Scouts USA. The organization will provide coaches and equipment to local communities and offer additional support to girls like Emily who chose field hockey as the focus of their Silver or Gold awards. “Girl Scouts builds girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place” and Emily is the embodiment of this mantra.