Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Golden Girls of Troop 520

Troop 520 of Girl Scouts of Nassau County

Meet the “Golden Girls” of Girl Scout Troop 520 of Girl Scouts of Nassau County. Not only have most of the girls been together since Daisies, but 10 of the 11 girls have earned the Gold Award—and the 11th is currently waiting for final approval on her completed project. Check out their inspiring projects to see how these Girl Scouts are working to make the world a better place.

Julie Alonso is 18 years old and has been in Troop 520 since kindergarten. In addition to Girl Scouts, she is involved in the Junior Coalition of the Manhasset Women’s Coalition Against Breast Cancer. She was on the varsity swim and crew teams, is a member of the National Honor Society, and volunteers at St. Francis Hospital. She will be attending Vanderbilt University in the fall.

Her project is titled “I Wish I Knew…” and focused on skin cancer awareness and prevention.  Julie states that she came up with the project because “the issue is very central in my life. Many of my family members have developed skin cancer. I thought it was an important topic to educate myself and other young people about. This cancer is one of the easiest to prevent, but you have to start from a young age. I loved working with children, giving people information on skin cancer they didn’t know about, and seeing how surprised and motivated they were to take action against this preventable disease. I learned that skin cancer is the most preventable form of cancer, yet it is the most prevalent. I also learned that the actions we take while we are young directly correlate to our chances of developing the disease later on. Additionally, I learned some things about myself. I learned to be a better public speaker and also to plan everything in advance. Earning my Gold Award and participating in Girl Scouts as a whole taught me how to interact with other people and establish a sense of community. It gave me friendships, opportunities, and experiences that will last me a lifetime.”

Gabriela DeCastro is 18 years old and has been in Troop 520 since kindergarten. In addition to Girl Scouts, she is involved in the Junior Coalition of the Manhasset Women’s Coalition Against Breast Cancer. She is a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, History Honor Society, and Key Club. She will be attending Boston College in the fall.

Her project is titled “¡Español Para Los Niños!” She taught Spanish for beginners to children ages 9 to 12, and held several “classes,” each focusing on a different topic. She supplemented the vocabulary taught in each session with interactive stations where lessons were reinforced in a fun and memorable way. Gabriela states that “the idea for my project was derived from the fact that foreign language programs were cut due to budget constraints in our elementary schools. Knowing a foreign language opens up many doors for individuals, allowing them to connect and interact with more people. It also creates a greater appreciation for another culture. I thought it was important to take the first step in teaching children a foreign language, as this might spark an interest that could lead them to continue the language for years to come. Also, since I am Hispanic, the decision to do a Spanish class was simple. It was a great experience because it allowed me to connect with children of our community and educate them in something I am passionate about. Through my project, I learned how to be a better leader and have grown as a person. It really was an important experience for me to be able to connect with members of my community and to give back.”

Skyler Gaccione, 17 years old, has been in Troop 520 since kindergarten. In addition to Girl Scouts, she is involved in the Junior Coalition of the Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer. She plays varsity volleyball and is a member of the National Honor Society. She will be attending Boston College in the fall.

Her project is titled “Canine Connection” and focused on the bond between dogs and children, in particular, children with special needs. She researched how dogs can be therapeutic and beneficial to a child with special needs as well as to any child who feels isolated. “Knowing that all too often a family will take in a new dog, only to have the dog end up at the pound because it wasn’t right for the family, I decided there needed to be a place for families to go where their child could interact with different dogs to see how they react before adopting one. This is especially important with special needs children who may have heightened sensory receptors that cause them to react to stimuli such as loud barks or fur that sheds. Allowing a family to ‘test the waters’ was the focus of the project. Workshops were run in which the children could sit and read with the dogs in the ‘quiet corner,’ simply pet the dogs, or even observe them from a comfortable distance. Some children would dress the dogs up, run through ‘obstacle courses’ with them, watch them do tricks, or be educated on the basics of pet care—for example, how to recognize if your dog is sick, how to interpret a dog’s body language, how much work is involved in having a dog, what type of dog breeds might be right for a family, and similar topics. The interactive workshops varied depending on the needs of the children being hosted. The experience was both challenging and moving. I had never worked with special needs children in a setting like this before. I faced many challenges, such as holding their attention span for the length of a workshop. However, seeing how excited they were to play with the dogs was a powerful image. It also reinforced the lesson of how important it is to give back and help out others. Earning my Girl Scout Gold Award, as well as being a Girl Scout for 13 years, has taught me many invaluable life lessons. It has taught me life skills such as leadership, and it has also provided me with morals that I live my life by, such as compassion. Lastly, I am grateful for the desire it sparked in me to give back to my community and help those in need.”

Daniela Haigian is 18 years old and has been in Girl Scouts since first grade and in Troop 520 since fourth grade. In addition to Girl Scouts, she is involved in the Junior Coalition of the Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer. She is president of the National Art Honor Society, treasurer of the History Honor Society, and a member of the National Honor Society, Math Honor Society, Interact club, and Spanish Honor Society. She will be attending Georgetown University in the fall.

Her project is titled “Adventures in Reading” and was designed to improve literacy and enhance reading comprehension in elementary school students. Daniela notes that “Reading is an essential life skill, and it is very important for students to be able to understand and analyze books. As part of the program, I held workshops at the Manhasset Public Library and the Manhasset/Great Neck Economic Opportunity Council that involved group discussions and activities designed to stimulate an interest in reading. Earning my Gold Award was a very enriching experience because it taught me to take initiative to achieve my goals, to persevere in working toward the goal when faced with obstacles, and to lead as I conducted workshops. More importantly, it was enriching because I saw the impact of my work on the students I helped.  Being part of Girl Scouts and earning the Gold Award has made a big impact on me. I have learned the importance of giving back to others and the strength of community. From my project, Adventures in Reading, I learned how to be creative by devising engaging activities for students and how to exert initiative in order to organize and create a successful program.”

Julia Henry, 17 years old, has been in Troop 520 since kindergarten. In addition to Girl Scouts, she is involved in the Junior Coalition of the Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer. She is a member of the varsity crew and swim teams, a youth lector at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, and a member of the St. Mary's youth group. This year she was also a catechist for sixth-graders. A member of the National Honor Society, she was recently named salutatorian of the Manhasset high school class of 2016. She will be attending Harvard University in the fall.

Her project, titled "Literacy Awareness and Importance in Webster Springs, West Virginia," focused on encouraging and enhancing reading and writing skills in the young people of Webster Springs. In addition to preparing all relevant materials for her project, Julia traveled to and lived in Webster Springs in connection with her project. She notes that her project “consisted of a week-long day camp for the youth of the Webster Springs community that enriched reading and writing skills. I also ran a book drive with the help of The Dolphin Bookshop in Port Washington, New York, to benefit the Webster Springs Public Library. The camp was an overall success, and I am so thankful to the Manhasset community for its support of my efforts to help the people of the impoverished community of Webster Springs. Girl Scouts has taught me the goal-setting, time management, and decision-making skills that have aided me in finding success in many different aspects of my life. It has given me confidence and inspired me to be among the women who change the world and make it better for the next generation. Lastly, earning the Gold Award was a way of proving to myself that I can do anything I set my mind to, no matter how insurmountable it may seem."

Paige Mantikas is 18 years old and has been in Troop 520 since second grade. In addition to Girl Scouts, she is involved in the Junior Coalition of the Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer. She is a member of Manhasset high school’s student senate, the National Honor Society, History Honor Society, and Spanish Honor Society. She is a member of the varsity field hockey team and is a volunteer at North Shore University Hospital. She will be attending Boston College in the fall.

For her project, titled “Team Goal,” she created a field hockey camp for students with disabilities. Her project was rooted in the concept of “teamwork” and her desire to teach the qualities of effective teamwork, such as trusting your teammates and working toward a common goal, to children with disabilities. Paige volunteered at the Lowell School in Bayside, New York, —which serves children classified as learning disabled, speech impaired, other-health impaired, and emotionally disturbed—but notes that she didn’t have much experience before that working with children with disabilities. She said, “I didn’t know what to expect and how teaching them to play field hockey would turn out. My goal was to teach these children the importance of teamwork through learning the game of field hockey. Before the camp began, I collected donations of equipment to give to the school. Most of the students had never really played or even heard of the sport before. Slowly and carefully, we taught them something new each day. From dribbling, hitting, and passing, we educated the students on all the basics of the sport, but more importantly, they learned to work and play with each other. I also learned from them—they taught me patience and to not take everything for granted. Creating the field hockey camp and working with the students was a very rewarding experience. I came completely outside of my comfort zone, and I was surprised by how much I actually ended up loving it. Earning the Gold Award opened my eyes beyond my community. I learned how the smallest acts of kindness can go a long way in the lives of many people.”

Lauren Merola is 18 years old and has been in Troop 520 since kindergarten. In addition to Girl Scouts she is involved in the Junior Coalition of the Manhasset Women’s Coalition Against Breast Cancer. She plays on the varsity lacrosse team, the varsity basketball team, the varsity soccer team, and the U19 Italian National Lacrosse team. She serves as vice president of Manhasset high school’s student senate and is a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, the English Honor Society, and the Key Club. She will be attending the University of Southern California in the fall.

Her project is titled “Magical Melodies” and brought music to a local nursing home for Alzheimer’s and dementia residents. Lauren’s personal experience was her incentive for the project. “Music provided the only form of communication between my Great-Aunt Rosie, who’d suffered a stroke, and me. We loved to hum to the tunes of Frank Sinatra and sway to the crooning of Tony Bennett. Music was our bond and the only way she was able to recognize me and speak to me. Experts say that music can awaken the brains of individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, allowing them to communicate more effectively. I used this knowledge to help rejuvenate the brain activity and memory of these patients, to put a smile on their faces, and to alleviate their suffering. Though it was tough to organize and coordinate the performances, it was even harder in the beginning of each show to have to relive the harshness of cognitive deficits because it reminded me a lot of my Aunt Rosie. However, toward the end of the shows, the residents had much more energy and were able to effectively talk and sway to their favorite songs with their loved ones! From my project, I learned not to take advantage of life's basic blessings. The ability to remember one's family and favorite music is lacking for some, and going through this experience really opened my eyes and allowed me to appreciate all the little things I may take for granted. About myself, I learned that I am determined to complete tasks and love making others happy. It truly is a blessing to be a Girl Scout and have this opportunity to change a corner of the world.”

Stephanie Palma is 17 years old and has been in Troop 520 since kindergarten. In addition to Girl Scouts, she is involved in the Junior Coalition of the Manhasset Women’s Coalition Against Breast Cancer. She is a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, English Honor Society, and Key Club. She is also captain of the varsity field hockey team. For the past seven years she has been a company dancer in Moves and Motions Dance Company. She will be attending Vassar College in the fall.

Through her project, titled “The Power of Dance in Easy Steps,” Stephanie provided a series of classes at Adventures in Learning in the Manhasset/Great Neck Economic Opportunity Center, teaching fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders the importance of fitness and nutrition and how to do these things on a budget. The program was divided into two parts— the first hour of each session focused on nutrition and healthy eating and the next hour was a dance class. Stephanie notes that it was important to prove “to children that it is easy to be healthy without spending a superfluous amount of money on expensive foods or gym memberships. As a competitive dancer and field hockey player, nutrition is a huge part of my life and I recognize the importance of staying in shape and eating right so I can perform to my greatest ability. I thought it best to do my project on this topic because I live it everyday and am therefore well informed. Class after class, I could see improvement in the kids by the wealth of information they displayed after nutrition class and the smiles on their faces as they learned new dance moves that got them excited. I learned to appreciate the art of teaching. It is certainly not as easy as it may look sometimes! I had to come up with creative ways to excite the children about learning something they’d had no interest in before. I created a nutrition bingo game to test their knowledge of the information I taught them and let them always play freeze dance as an incentive to get active. The winner got a smelly sticker! Earning the Gold Award has taught me that there is no task too extreme or challenging to overcome. The Gold Award is a rigorous award that requires enormous dedication, however, through the process, I learned that little by little a person is capable of achieving a goal with a motivated mindset and a passion for what the award is about, in my case nutrition and fitness.”

Alexandra “Ally” Steck, 18 years old, has been in Girl Scouts since kindergarten and in Troop 520 since fourth grade. In addition to Girl Scouts, she is involved in the Junior Coalition of the Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer. She is also a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, the History Honor Society, Interact club, the cross-country team, and the track team. She will be attending Villanova University in the fall.

Her project, “Community Service Database,” culminated in the creation of an electronic database for various community service opportunities available to interested young people. Ally notes that “the idea for my project came to me after I struggled to find places to volunteer. After going through several different websites, I eventually came to an organization that aligned with my interests. I began to think of the most efficient way a high school student could find an organization involved in something she or he is passionate about or wants to pursue in the future. Creating a database organized by what each organization works toward or is involved in seemed like the best method to allow high school students to find an organization in a timely manner that also aligned with their interests. Working on my project required a lot of time and patience to fully learn the program/website in order to create my database. I became more independent—I had to move outside my comfort zone to learn everything I could about creating an online community so that I could build my project. I also acquired time-management skills while completing the project during a packed junior/senior year. Earning the Gold Award has allowed me to explore and acquire new skills that were useful then and will continue to be useful now and in the future.”

Amanda Wysota is 18 years old and has been in Troop 520 since kindergarten. In addition to Girl Scouts, she is involved in the Junior Coalition of the Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer. She is also a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, the Key Club, and a member of the cross-country team. She will be attending the University of Florida in the fall.

Her project is titled “Social Seniors” and through it she introduced senior citizens to computer basics, including social media, and enabled them to feel more comfortable using technology. Amanda explains that “social media has become one of the principal ways people stay in contact with each other. In addition, there is so much information relevant to seniors available online. Unfortunately, many senior citizens are not aware of the technology available today, and if they are, do not know how to make use of it. Whether just speaking to their grandchildren or staying in touch with family members and friends, learning to use technology will benefit their lives greatly. Many senior citizens are intimidated by computers. The underlying cause of this problem is the lack of know-how. I put together a program using simple language and clear handouts to teach how easily a person can navigate a computer. In addition, I demonstrated a step-by-step process on computer basics, on how to use Skype and Facebook, and how to send and receive email. Seniors have special needs. Font types must be simple to read and the size of the type must be larger. My PowerPoint presentations and handouts had to reflect this. In addition, when presenting to seniors about a complex topic like computers, you need to speak slowly and clearly. I could not assume any knowledge on the part of my audience. When my PowerPoint failed in the middle of a presentation, I had to use the Internet and proceed without any notes—it was a challenge, but I was effective because I was well prepared. This project taught me to be patient, understanding, and ready for any obstacles that might arise. Earning the Gold Award and working on my project taught me to put patience and the needs of others before my own. Being a Girl Scout has made a huge impact on my life in that I've learned to communicate in a mature manner and acquire life skills not taught in school.”

Kalliopi Kapetanos is 18 years old and has been in Troop 520 since second grade. She has completed her Gold Award project and is awaiting final approval. In addition to Girl Scouts, she is involved in the Junior Coalition of the Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer.  She is a member of the Spanish Honor Society and a member of the crew team. She will be attending Fairfield University in the fall.

Her project is titled “Cooking on a Budget” and was designed to provide healthy menu options and recipes for those who rely on food pantries as the principal source of ingredients for their meals. Kalli notes that “I chose to work on this project because I believe it is important for everyone to get a good, healthy meal, no matter what their socioeconomic status may be. Throughout my project, I learned what it is like to care for others. This process was part of what  influenced me to choose to study nursing in college. I learned the importance of health through this project and came to understood that everyone needs to watch what they eat to be healthy and, at the same time, have good-tasting meals, no matter how they get their ingredients. In addition to exploring what ingredients can be found in food pantries, I also had to test the recipes. Part of the project included simple techniques for growing herbs and some vegetables in window gardens. The Gold Award helped me gain organizational and leadership skills and develop responsibility. These life lessons will be useful in college and later as I pursue my career.”