Monday, July 1, 2019

How a passion for civics became a Girl Scout Gold Award

Guest post by Lauren H., an 18-year-old Gold Award Girl Scout from Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama 

I completed my Girl Scout Gold Award in the summer of 2017 before I began my senior year of high school. I designed a government camp for underprivileged girls by working in tandem with Girls Inc. in Birmingham through their summer camps for girls. For three days, the girls and I worked through the ins and outs of local, state, and federal legislative processes, like writing, proposing, voting on, and passing bills for Congress, as well as running for a political office. I also invited Patricia Bell, a Birmingham mayoral candidate, and Patricia Todd, a representative in the Alabama House of Representatives, to speak to the girls about the importance of their voices and female voices in general in government. The girls then wrote letters to their local, state, and federal representatives.

I think the reason I am so passionate about the topic of civics and citizenship is because I spent years learning and teaching others about this amazing country and the hard-won freedom the founding fathers fought for. In Montevallo, Alabama there are a cluster of numerous replicas of famous colonial structures such as the courthouse at Williamsburg and George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. From the summer after my seventh-grade year to the summer before my senior year, I spent every day of summer vacation at American Village as a junior interpreter where my duties included dressing in eighteenth century garb and interacting with visitors as if I lived in the middle of America’s fight for independence. I think people are quick to forget that the democracy we enjoy today was at the cost of the first Americans’ lives. Besides working at American Village, I also paged for the Alabama Senate in Montgomery and attended Alabama Girls State, a youth leadership program. My Gold Award is basically a smaller-scale version of Girls State and is heavily influenced by my experiences serving at both American Village and as a page. 

That seventh grader who started work at American Village never could have imagined that her passion for civics could have taken her all the way to New York city where a few weeks ago, I attended a Girl Scout civics education event. There are so many takeaways from this amazing experience. First, that my passions and my enthusiasm for civics connects me to so many wonderful women from all backgrounds and in all professions. No one can inspire women like other powerful women. I think iCivics CEO Emma Humphries said it best during the panel discussion: these women have climbed the ladder of success and have turned around to pull other women, like me, up behind them. I was so humbled and grateful for this experience and will cherish the memories of this event and use them to inspire me the rest of my life. 

This topic of civics education is SO important, and we need more girls to focus on it for their Gold Award, but like any Gold Award effort, it is definitely not easy. It’s really important to be organized and prepared but also remember to have fun and get excited. I think the problem with civics education currently is that kids and teachers are bored by the subject or, even worse, they are cynical, jaded, and angered by the whole process. So show your passions and get excited even when it’s tough! I would also encourage you to ask for help. I was floored by the support I was given by Girls Inc., Representative Terri Collins, Representative Patricia Todd, and Birmingham mayoral candidate Ms. Patricia Bell, who all wanted to be involved and help me in any way they could. 

Earning my Gold Award has allowed me to have a concrete example of my passions in action. I also think that actually doing the work itself, coordinating schedules, staying organized, and designing the program taught me so much about organization and working with other people to take action in the areas that I find to be very important. It showed me how much I could make an impact. The Gold Award has given me a new perspective on my own ability to make a difference in the world and communities around me, and I think that’s an immeasurably valuable lesson.