Basalt Girl Scouts win prestigious Gold Award
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
BASALT ” Basalt Girl Scouts Theresa Gerdin, Megan Southward and Karlie Zajac do more than just sell Thin Mints and Samoas. After 13 plus years as Girl Scouts, the three women, all 18 years of age, have been awarded the Gold Award, the highest award that a Girl Scout can attain, for leadership skills, organizational skills, and a sense of community and commitment.
In order to achieve the Gold award, all three women had to create and submit a project that required 60 hours of work and benefited the community in some way.
Zajac, who has had a love for backpacking ever since a fourth grade camping trip, wrote and self published a book on leading youth groups in the wilderness. She also created a game to help teach children the basics of camping.
“Lots of kids are just sitting around playing on the computer and playing video games and we are surrounded by beautiful mountains,” said Zajac. “One of my passions since I was little has been hiking and backpacking. I wanted a project where kids could get out and experience our beautiful mountains and go backpacking, so I created this kit.”
Zajac says that her love of backpacking goes back to an earlier experience she had with the Girl Scouts.
“We were in Canyon Lands, and there was a pool of water and they let us splash around in the water,” reflects Zajac. “It was like the movies, like a serene pristine environment and then kids splashing around in the water. But it was really fun. I just remember thinking that I was wearing the same clothes for four days and nobody cared because we all smelled bad. It is just experiencing nature with your friends and not having to worry about what you look like and not really caring, just having fun. Ever since then, I have just been addicted.”
Zajac hopes her book and game will help leaders create a similar experience for other youth groups.
“It is a different experience when you go with someone who hasn’t really been backpacking before,” said Zajac. “With the girls, even though I was really experienced, they weren’t necessarily. If they had just had a little bit of prior knowledge, that would have been nice. So that is what I aimed for with the game. So that they would just know the simple things, so I wouldn’t have to sound like a teacher lecturing them the whole trail.”
Gerdin and Southward teamed up to write and illustrate a book about a deaf child’s experience for their Gold Award project.
“Basically what we wanted to do is raise awareness about being deaf,” explained Southward. “A lot of times there are kids who are in elementary school classrooms who are deaf and the other kids don’t really understand what is going on and why they can’t hear them when they talk to them. So we figured the best way to educate them would be to write a children’s book that they would be able to understand.”
Gerdin added that with the deaf camp in Old Snowmass, they thought a book about a deaf child would be a nice fit for the community.
Gerdin also explained that the idea for the book came after her and Southward took a sign language class their junior year in high school.
“Our junior year of school, we went to a sign language class and we had so much fun and we learned so much,” said Gerdin. “We wanted to incorporate that some how with our project and we always wanted to write a book, but we had no idea what to write it about, so sign language presented the perfect solution.”
The project, which took 2 years and over 60 hours of work, Zajac admits was not easy, especially on top of junior and senior year classes and activities.
“We definitely procrastinated a lot,” admits Zajac. “We wanted to get it done in a year but it happened in 2 and a half years. It is kind of hard to get stuff done, when you are worried about tomorrow’s history project over this, when there is no specific deadline.”
Southward agrees, saying that if it hadn’t been for Gerdin and Zajac she doesn’t think she would have made it.
“The three of us, kind of kept each other in Girl Scouts,” said Southward. “At times it was like I don’t want to do this anymore, but we helped each other stick through it.”
In a group that started out with 24 members, Gerdin, Southward and Zajac were the only three to remain in their troop.
“I have been a Girl Scout for 15 years, I have never not been a Girl Scout,” said Zajac.” Even though I got bullied for it in school. People would say to me: ‘Why are you in Girl Scouts, you are 18?’ It was hard, but I would just say: ‘You like Girl Scout cookies? Yes? Well I am the one to give it to you, so stop complaining.'”
Gerdin also admits that while many people have been critical of her status as a Girl Scout, some of her friends have admitted to regretting dropping out of the troop.
“Some of our friends who have dropped it, think that we are stupid” said Gerdin.
“While some of them kind of regret dropping it, seeing all of the amazing things that we have done like going to Europe and caving and the Gold Award. We have definitely set a standard that hadn’t been reached before.”
“They are almost envious because we are the first troop that has ever been this high up in Girl Scouting in the valley and we were the first group to ever attempt the Gold Award,” added Southward.
“Not to be cocky….” Geridn begins.
“But this is cool for us.” Southward says finishing Gerdin’s sentence.
Zajac says that the best part of The Gold Award was presenting the final project to her former principal.
“The best part about it was finally finishing it and giving it to the principal,” she said. “I walked into the building, and the central area that seemed gigantic when I was in 8th grade now seems small, now that I am a senior. It was a flashback to the past. There was a wall where you sign your name in 8th grade and I looked at my name and it looks terrible. It was just a reminder of how much the community school affected me and it was nice to be able to give something back to something that was so good for me.”
Gerdin and Southward agree that seeing and presenting the final project was the best part of the experience, admitting that the award its self was a let down.
“I thought [the award] would be bigger,” admits Gerdin. “The actual award is this big,” Gerdin says as she holds up her thumb and index finger about 1 inch apart. “And you just pin it on your vest. So I was like cool, this represents all the work I have done.”
“We wanted a trophy or a monument or a building in our honor,” adds Southward sarcastically.
“We did it, we know we did it. It means something. Actually seeing the book was more rewarding than getting the pin.” said Gerdin.
Southward says, like Zajac, that the real award came when she presented the project to a class.
“The amount of work I felt I did, didn’t amount to the size of the pin,” said Southward. “We presented it to some classes and just seeing how much of an impact it had on the kids was like that much more of an award than the actual pin. We gave a copy of the book to a lady to bring to the deaf camp and we were kind of unsure how the deaf community would react because we didn’t know if they would be offended or say what are you doing. Apparently they loved it. They said that they never had something like that when they were growing up. So hopefully it would just accomplish what we had set out to do. It was such a great thing. It was really cool to hear that.”
While all three women admit that they have no plans to continue Girl Scouts in college, they also admit they aren’t ruling anything out.
“I think college is my next step now,” said Zajac. “But if I ever have children, or even if I don’t, I plan on becoming a leader. It has had such a profound affect on me. I want to share that.”
Zajac says that she is so thankful for all that she has learned from the Girl Scouts, including how to be a good salesman.
“I am a great salesman, because 13 years of cookie sales will teach you to take the no. My mom always says the worst thing they can say is no, so just go ask them. But now I know how to pitch a sale.”
Southward also says she learned a lot from the experience.
“Pretty much stick with your passion. No matter what people say,” she said. “And fight the stereotype. And don’t be afraid to say ‘Yeah, I am a Girl Scout.'”
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