Annaleigh Bonds of Bay Hill earns a Gold Award, the highest achievement one can receive from Girl Scouts of the USA.
For some people, the only connection they have with Girl Scouts is a box of Thin Mints or Caramel deLites. However, there is much more to the female-centered worldwide organization than its iconic cookies.
Girls Scouts of the USA’s longevity and relevancy are evidenced by the celebration of its centennial anniversary this year.When Juliette Gordon Low invited 18 girls into her Savannah, Ga., home at the turn of the 20th century, she did so with a vision of empowering young women from all walks of life, race, religion and socioeconomic status. Juliette wanted to open a world of possibilities, where girls could explore the outdoors, engage in physical activities, practice good citizenship through community service, emphasize positive character traits, develop leadership skills and make lifelong friendships — all while having fun.
She had been introduced to the Girl Guides program while in London, where she met Lord Robert Baden-
Powell, the founder of the Scout Movement. After a brief involvement with Girl Guides (the female counterpart to Boy Scouts) in Europe, she returned to the U.S. with the specific goal of bringing the all-girl organization to America.
Diversity was an important component of Juliette’s plan, so she recruited her first troop from a cross section of the local Savannah population, which included an orphanage, a synagogue and churches, as well as daughters of the city’s most powerful and influential families. On March 12, 1912, Juliette registered her group as the first American Girl Guide troop. After a year, the organization was renamed to Girl Scouts, and today, it is officially known as Girl Scouts of the United States of America.One hundred years later, this dynamic group of women — from girls age 5 through alumnae well in their 80s — share a special camaraderie. GSUSA has more than 3.7 million members composed of girls and adults in virtually every residential zip code in the U.S. and in 90 countries throughout the world. Only those members in the U.S. and on military bases are called Girl Scouts, while those in other countries are still referred to as Girl Guides.The Girl Scout experience generally begins when a girl joins a Daisy troop (Juliette’s childhood nickname was Daisy) while in kindergarten and then progresses through the ranks to Brownie, Junior, Cadette and Senior. Girls who are registered individually but are not part of a troop are known as Juliettes.Scouts earn merit badges as they master a variety of skills, engage in activities and perform community service projects.There are milestone awards that recognize individual, larger-scope projects. Once girls achieve the Bronze and Silver awards, they can set their sights on the pinnacle of GSUSA achievements — the Gold Award.The Gold Award is the equivalent in honor and prestige of the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Award. Senior Girl Scouts ages 14 through 18 are eligible to pursue the Gold Award.Bay Hill resident Annaleigh Bonds recently earned a Gold Award for her service project that benefited Harbor House of Central Florida. After visiting the facility and learning that a school was under construction for resident children, the Lake Highland Preparatory School graduate organized a book drive for the new facility’s library. After collecting, sorting and categorizing more than 2,000 books, Annaleigh delivered them to Harbor House.As a third-generation Girl Scout, there was no doubt Annaleigh would achieve the organization’s highest accolade.She joined Girl Scouts as a Daisy out of Holy Family Catholic School in the Dr. Win Service Unit.“My mom encouraged me to be a part of Girl Scouts from the beginning,” Annaleigh said.When she enrolled at LHPS, she joined a troop that met in College Park. About six years ago, the group was in danger of disbanding, so Annaleigh’s mother, Becky, stepped up to lead the girls, along with help from another mother.“My mother was a [Girl Scout] leader, and I have such fond memories of that time,” Becky said, referring to her mother, Orange Tree resident Carolyn Bourge. “I didn’t want to see the troop go,” she said. “It was a good group of moms and daughters, which makes a big difference. Not only were the girls friends, but the moms all became friends, too.”As a result of the support of their parents and the girls’ determination, six out of eight earned their individual Gold Awards by the end of their junior year.In addition to Girl Scouts, Annaleigh was a cheerleader and involved in LHPS’s spring musical. Despite her busy extracurricular schedule and demanding academics, Annaleigh continued to dedicate much time and energy to Girl Scouts. She plans to attend the University of Florida in the fall.“I never thought I should quit Girl Scouts; it really wasn’t an option in my mind,” Annaleigh said. “It was something I had always had in my life.”Annaleigh hopes to follow in her mother and grandmother’s footsteps and become a Girl Scout leader.
Another benefit of Girl Scouting is the lifelong friendships that are forged.“I’ve met most of my friends through Girl Scouts,” said Jessica Gaffin, who attends Dr. Phillips High School and lives in Diamond Cove.Jessica’s sisters, Katie, 14, and Madelyn, 6, are also Girl Scouts. But the family involvement does not stop there. In addition to being the troop leader of both Jessica and Katie’s respective troops, their mother, Janet, is the Dr. Win Service Unit manager, and she oversees more than 600 girls and 400 adults representing 70 troops. Dr. Win is part of the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council, which serves more than 16,000 girls in Brevard, Lake, Seminole, Orange, Osceola and Volusia counties.
Each year, Dr. Win sponsors a signature event known as Thinking Day, which is designed to expose Girl Scouts to other countries and cultures. Each troop “adopts” a country and prepares food that people can purchase. Proceeds from the event benefit the Juliette Low World Friendship fund that supports four world centers in Mexico, Switzerland, England and India. Owned and operated by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, the centers offer short- and long-term, inexpensive accommodations for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts while they attend seminars and international events. Members of GSUSA and their families are encouraged to visit the centers, meet girls from other countries, and build lasting friendships.
Girl Scouts is a family affair for Diamond Cove residents (back, l. to r.) Jessica, Katie, (front, l. to r.) Janet and Madelyn Gaffin.
The Girl Scout model is designed to encourage girls to grow in responsibility and organizational skills as they progress through the different levels.
“We really rely on the older girls to help organize and lead the larger activities like Camporee,” Janet said. “That is one of the great things about Girl Scouts — the opportunity the girls have to develop leadership skills.”
“I love the whole independence part of Girl Scouts,” Jessica said. “We are taught that we are able to impact others and do whatever we put our minds to.”
“We try to do a community service event each month,” Janet said. “It can be something as simple as collecting soda can tabs for Ronald McDonald House or a larger effort. The great thing is that we are able to teach these girls from a young age how easy it is to give back and make a difference in the community. Doing something on a regular basis just becomes a part of their life.”
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