Six Local Girl Scouts Honored With Prestigious Gold Awards
Six local Girl Scouts were celebrated on July 16 during a Gold Award Ceremony at Trinity Church.
The Scouts have all earned the most prestigious honor in Girl Scouting. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, three of the Scouts — two who earned their credentials last year, and one in 2020 — had their formal ceremonies postponed until this month.
Nearly 55 family members and friends joined the Scouts being honored by their troop leaders, local elected leaders, and even the chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Connecticut (GSOFCT).
The 2022 recipients were Emma Bogursky, Rebecca Filiato, and MJ Taylor, three of just 58 Scouts in Connecticut to earn that honor this year.
2021 Gold Award Girl Scouts were Audrey Christensen and Taegan Smith, and Newtown’s 2020 Gold Award Girl Scout was Kimberly Johnson.
Johnson, who is doing research at college, was unable to attend the ceremony. But she was, as noted during the Saturday event, given a drive-by Gold Award Parade during the spring of 2020.
In their welcoming remarks on July 16, Maria Konitshek and Monika Wieleba-Anderson, co-service unit managers from Newtown, noted that nationwide just five percent of Girl Scouts earn the award by devoting “hours of planning, research and hard work.”
The presentation of colors was done with younger Scouts — representing local Ambassador, Cadette, Junior, Brownie, and Daisy troops — carrying American, World Association, and Girl Scout flags to the front of the church. Trinity Rector Reverend Andrea Castner Wyatt thanked the guests, asking them in her invocation to offer silent prayers to celebrate the “six amazing young women” being honored.
“We celebrate all of their successes, we celebrate their families and the adults who have guided and mentored them, and we celebrate the communities of faith who have sponsored them,” she said. “We will be stronger and wiser communities because of the gifts of these young women.”
Diana Mahoney, chief executive officer of GSOFCT, said via press release in June that when each project is complete, “the Gold Award Girl Scout and their team have made a sustainable impact on their community that continues to last beyond their involvement.”
Mahoney also attended the Newtown event, and addressed the honorees.
“Your projects are amazing, and you do make a difference,” she said. “That’s really a big part of what Girl Scouts is.”
Turning toward those seated in the pews, Mahoney said that as Girl Scouts embark on and then continue their journey, “they make friends, they learn important skills, and they really grow into creatures of service.”
Gold Award projects, she said, “are a symbol, a culmination, of all that they’ve learned along the way, from Girl Scouts, from peers, from parents, from leaders, from teachers, from the community, and they try to solve a problem that they see. And they do it in an amazing way.
“Some of these Girl Scouts you’re looking at,” she continued, “actually did it during the pandemic. That’s really amazing too. So if you think about it, that’s pretty heroic — not having the ability to be in school, in person, while you’re trying to make the community better.”
Earning a Gold Award, Mahoney said, is not the end of a Girl Scout’s journey.
“It’s the beginning,” she said. “Keep going with your ideas. Connect with the community.”
Heather Smith, a member of the GSOFCT Gold Award Committee and mother of award recipient Taegan Rose Smith, agreed that Scouts earning their awards during the pandemic were “extraordinary.”
“I hope you feel celebrated today,” she said. “You deserve your moment.”
The Scouts’ families introduced their inductees. Parents shared heartfelt recollections while offering their congratulations to their young adults, and the group as a whole.
After each family was represented, one member then had the duty of draping a green ribbon with a Gold Award medal around the neck of their honoree.
One of the few fathers to speak, Chris Smith, noted the difficulty of the award’s achievement.
“There’s a reason why only five percent of all the Girls Scouts do this,” he said. “I think everybody here should take a second to think about what it takes to earn this award. I still remember the first time I read all the requirements. I truly had no idea. I remember thinking, ‘That’s crazy. Why do they make this so difficult?’
“But now that we’ve gone through this, and we’ve seen what every person up here has gone through, it’s more than just a singular accomplishment,” he said. In thinking of words that describe each Scout that works on the Gold Award, he said, he came up with the following: grace, grit, awe, balance, heartfelt, and initiative.
“When you find someone who can take all those things and put them together, that’s someone I’m going to look at and be in awe of,” Smith said. “You guys have taken this to a whole other level. Relish that.”
He offered his thanks to the Girl Scout organization, “for setting these lofty goals, for providing opportunities for girls to grow, and to have leadership opportunities. We don’t have enough of that.”
Elected officials were also part of the celebration. First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, State Representatives Raghib Allie-Brennan and Mitch Bolinsky, and State Senator Tony Hwang each offered remarks, before citations and proclamations were presented.
The Girl Scout Gold Award, Hwang told the Scouts, “demonstrates leadership skills, sacrifice, and a sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. These accomplishments are so important because we saw tremendous heart, and pride, and joy, and even a sigh of relief during the family presentations.
“Your grace, elegance, and patience is a real testament to the Gold Award winners you are,” he said.
Allie-Brennan read a citation issued by the Connecticut General Assembly, “honoring the dedication, commitment, and hard work that are required for this achievement,” he said in part, adding, “This is an honor for which you should be very proud.”
Bolinsky encouraged the Scouts to work with others, noting that he and other politicians must do that, often, even when they may not agree on issues.
“Individually we are nothing. Always have the strength to work with people,” he said. “You’ve proven to be great teammates, and you have the stuff to earn these Gold Awards.”
Rosenthal noted everyone in attendance that afternoon “is blessed to live in a community of volunteerism.” He read from each proclamation being presented to the Scouts. Each was personalized to highlight each recipient’s project.
The Harms Of Vaping
Emma Bogursky’s project, “The Harms of Vaping,” was inspired after she witnessed the rising vaping epidemic affect many individuals at the high school level, according to notes shared with attendees on July 16.
Her goal was to teach middle school students about vaping before their transition into high school so that they could have the information necessary to make informed decisions before inhaling vapor created by an electronic cigarette. She taught eight health classes at Newtown Middle School during the 2020-21 academic year, reaching all of the school’s students.
Girl Scouts, she said, “has taught me the value of giving back to the community,” among other life lessons. Her project, she said, “has allowed me to improve the health of my community.
Audrey Christensen created “Petwork,” a system to help create awareness and increase knowledge of pet care during emergencies including power outages and weather events. Petwork includes a Facebook group that helps find lost pets and a website with care tips for all types of pets, quick contact information for Poison Control.
“The goal was to have all the important information in one place for easy accessibility,” she said. “In a panic, it can be hard to find all the information you need.”
Rebecca Filiato’s fairy house project addresses a lack of nature in the everyday lives of children. It also educated them on the positive effects of being outdoors.
After extending a public invitation, more than 90 fairy houses were created with natural materials and installed at Cherry Grove Farm, in conjunction with Newtown Forest Association, in May 2021.
The project, she said, “allowed me to devote myself to something I deeply care about while also leading me to learn valuable lessons.”
Kim Johnson started TEAMHealing — TEen Assembly for MentalHealing — after seeing the impact of a major loss in her community, and a gap in mental health resources available for teenagers.
TEAMHealing is a group of teens dedicated to compiling and maintaining mental health resources for that age group, to help fill the gaps.
The Language Of Dance
Taegan Smith’s project was borne out of her first trip with Newtown High School’s Newtown International Center for Education (NICE) program to the VatsalyaGram schools in India.
“During this experience,” she said of her sophomore cultural exchange trip, “I was able to form a bond with people I met through one shared universal language: dance.”
Seeing a need to connect students coming from different socioeconomic backgrounds and hoping to give back to those who shared their own dance culture, Taegan created a curriculum based on ballet — her own area of expertise, she said — for her second trip in 2020.
Twenty students from two schools learned to work together in dance classes, and then performed in a culminating celebration. Taegan also launched a website with recorded lessons so that students could continue their connection from their location in India.
What Are Your Pronouns?
During their years as a high school student, MJ Taylor saw that very few teachers asked for the pronouns of students.
“I use they/them as my pronouns,” they said at the opening of their remarks. “If any of you want to know what that means, please ask me. I did an entire Gold Award project about it,” they continued, drawing a laugh.
“The overarching goal of my project was to increase awareness for students, like myself, that do not use pronouns that do not match our perceived gender presentation,” they said.
MJ researched and developed materials to utilize with teachers and educate them on how to ask for pronouns, as well as to increase awareness on why this is important. The public can access related video presentations on YouTube.
In concluding their thank you, MJ surprised their mother Laura — a previous Girl Scout Gold Award honoree (“but she’ll never tell you that,” MJ said) — with a gold Girl Scout Gold Award necklace.
Challenge And Pledge
After the Scouts all spoke they were asked to form a semicircle around a table in front of the sanctuary rail. Sondra Bogursky, Nicole Christensen and Heather Smith, local Girl Scout leaders who have worked with all five of the afternoon’s honorees, shared reading the challenge and responsive pledge.
After the challenge and pledge were read, Rebecca lifted a tapered white candle and lit it from a gold pillar candle in the center of the table in front of the group. She then lit a corresponding white pillar candle, encased in glass with the Girl Scout logo, in front of her.
Passing the tapered candle to her left, Taegan followed suit. Audrey, Emma, and MJ did the same, formally accepting the Girl Scout Gold Award Challenge, making the pledge, and concluding the 90-minute ceremony.
Gold Award Scholarship
In early June, one of Newtown’s newest Gold Award recipients was presented with a Gold Award Scholarship.
Seven Girl Scouts from across the state were presented with $1,000 Gold Award Scholarships at the Annual Girl Scout Gold Award Ceremony at Courtyard by Marriott in Waterbury.
Each year, GSOFCT awards scholarships to a select number of Girl Scouts who have also earned the Gold Award. To be eligible, the Scout must be a current high school senior or college freshman and have earned the rigorous Gold Award.
MJ Taylor was among this year’s scholarship recipients.
Managing Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.