Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Girl Scouts give back, earn highest award

by LISA SHADE Special to the Gazette on June 14, 2014 10:54 AM

According to a recent report by the Nielsen media ratings company, teenagers spend an average of 20 hours a week watching television. Parents may wonder what their kids could accomplish if they spent that idle screen time doing something more productive. Clean a bedroom? Get a part-time job? Take the dog for a walk?

Girl Scouts Shannon and Rachel Stirling’s parents don’t have to wonder. They’ve witnessed what their daughters can achieve. Together, the sisters have logged nearly 900 hours in action, working to make their corner of the world a better place.

Shannon, a high school senior, and Rachel, a rising senior, have spent 453 and 409 hours respectively volunteering in their community. The teens organize fundraisers for local charities, manage a Relay for Life team, volunteer at Vacation Bible School for three local churches and paint, clean and serve wherever help is needed.

Even the girls’ school subjects at Lenape Tech in Ford City are catalysts for community projects. After entering the carpentry program at Lenape, Rachel organized the production of wooden birdhouses to donate to Crooked Creek Preserve. Shannon, who is in the Lenape biomedical technology program, worked with teachers to create chemistry demonstrations for younger Girl Scouts.

“Our troop has always focused on helping others and giving back,” said Tonilynne Stirling, the girls’ mom and Girl Scout troop leader.

COURAGE, CONFIDENCE AND CHARACTER

Tonilynne, a troop leader for 35 years, describes her daughters as typically quiet and shy. She says their experiences through Girl Scouting helped them “blossom into confidence.”

That confidence led both girls to aim for and achieve the Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouting.

Open only to girls in high school, this prestigious award challenges girls to identify a community problem and take action to find a solution — not only in the short term, but for years into the future.

For her Gold Award project, Shannon saw a need to help residents at the Mechling-Shakley Veterans Center gain confidence and enhance important life skills. The center is a community-based residential treatment facility in rural Armstrong County for homeless veterans needing rehabilitation and support. She worked with residents to create a raised-bed vegetable gardening program, helping them discover the health benefits and fun that comes from growing food.

Rachel wanted to share the joy of music and lifelong learning to earn her Gold Award. She created a series of classes at her local library to teach seniors how to play the piano. The library supported her efforts by advertising the program to its patrons. Rachel’s well-attended classes drew people from all over the region.

Leadership skills blossom through Girl Scouting as well. Shannon serves as state vice president for Skills USA, a national organization of career and technical education students, instructors and business partners. She led the fundraising campaign for the organization’s Operation Troop Support, which garnered $13,000 in donations.

Shannon and Rachel’s Girl Scouts tenure hasn’t been all work and no play, however. The girls enjoy all the fun and friendship Girl Scouting offers, including camp adventures. They have visited all but one of the nine camps in Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania’s 27-county council. Rachel likes to take her dad to “Me and My Guy” camp programs, and Shannon loves spending time at Camp Redwing, a 123-acre camp along Connoquennessing Creek in Butler County.

BRIGHT FUTURES

The time Shannon spent volunteering in her community will help her as she takes the next step in her leadership journey. She earned three community service scholarships and will attend honors college at IUP for biochemistry in the fall. Shannon’s goal is to earn a degree in genetics.

Rachel was also recognized for her dedication to helping others. At a recent awards ceremony at school, Rachel was presented with the Community Service Leadership Award from the University of Rochester in New York.

These industrious Girl Scouts have a long list of accomplishments, but their stories are just beginning. According to a study by the Girl Scout Research Institute, the experiences girls have helping others through Girl Scouts makes them more likely to give back to their communities as adults.

Shannon and Rachel’s dedi cation to community service will continue to help make the world a better place, one hour at a time.

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