Six Local Teens Earn Gold: Highest Honor in Girl Scouting

by Ann Rakoff & Maris Vidler

Gold Award Scouts: (from left) Andrea Vignola, Keira Rakoff, Margaret Vidler, Emma Kravet, Claire Morgenstern & Rebecca Baron

(May 17, 2005) Over 100 Girls Scouts, their families, friends and New York State and Westchester County officials filled the Murray Avenue School auditorium on Sunday afternoon, May 15, 2005. They gathered to honor six Larchmont teens receiving their Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouting. These young women are: Rebecca Baron, Emma Kravet, Claire Morgenstern, Keira Rakoff, Margaret Vidler and Andrea Vignola.

The six honorees, high school seniors completing their 11th consecutive year in scouting, are the first from the Larchmont/Mamaroneck community in over ten years to achieve the Gold Award. To earn the award, a Senior Girl Scout must first complete over 200 hours of prerequisites that focus on leadership, career exploration and community service activities. The next step is to identify a need in the community, then design and execute a project of at least 75 hours to meet that need. In addition, each girl must do her own fundraising.

The girls’ projects included producing a television segment showcasing pets in need of adoptive families; reclaiming Westchester county land for the Marshlands Conservancy that had unknowingly been encroached upon by neighbors; directing a Midnight Run with supplies and food for the homeless; establishing a Youth Running Program for low-income and immigrant children to help fight the growing national obesity problem; and assisting young single mothers with mental health and substance abuse problems, in setting up independent households for themselves and their children. (See below for more on the girls' projects.)

gold awardThe girls received their Gold Award pins from Executive Director of Girl Scouts of Westchester*Putnam Mary Stroock, and Field Executive Aurora Orozco, as the audience gave them a standing ovation. Nationwide, only 5% of Senior Girl Scouts receive the Gold Award, but the Westchester*Putnam Council is fortunate to have a figure of 15%, explained Ms. Stroock. “It’s an outstanding achievement and demonstrates that ‘Girl Scouts is a Place Where Girls Grow Strong.’ You make us very proud,” she said.

New York State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer recognized the uniqueness of the girls’ achievements. “I can’t remember when I’ve seen six Gold Awards at one time and I’ve been a senator for 21 years!” she told them as she gave each of the girls a proclamation from New York State. NY Assemblyman George Latimer praised the honorees, “… for their ability and determination in making a commitment, to do something substantial. This was done in the context of a society where it’s probably not so cool to be in high school and say you’re active in scouting.” He drew a big laugh from the audience when he presented the girls with a citation and remarked, “This is one of those rare moments when the Assembly agrees with the Senate as we honor these six young women.”

Additional praise for the girls’ dedication, leadership and commitment to community came from Westchester County Legislator, Judith A. Myers, along with a proclamation. “You see here that these six young women have gone out, joined an organization (which many people do) but they stuck with the organization. They developed programs and stayed with the programs. They identified needs in their community and in different communities and then, they met these needs,” she stressed.

Public officials who were unable to attend the ceremony sent congratulatory letters or citations to each of the award recipients, including Vice President Richard Cheney, Governor George E. Pataki, U. S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Congresswoman Nita Lowey, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Westchester County DA Jeanine Pirro, Westchester County Executive Andrew J. Spano and Superintendent of Mamaroneck Schools, Sherry King.

The final public official to address the honorees was Town of Mamaroneck. Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe who praised each girl and the local scouting community. “There’s a great feeling in this room with all the Girl Scouts here to help celebrate,” she concluded.

Local scouts and their leaders joined in the praise. Jackie Burrell and Pat Allen, the community directors for the Larchmont/Mamaroneck community, presented the troop with an honorary plaque to be permanently displayed in the Girl Scout House on Harmon Drive, and gave each girl a cash award for college, along with an inscribed silver picture frame for the scouts and their leaders. “When you come back home, remember that this community needs girls like you,” Ms. Burrell told them.

Troops of all ages joined in the ceremony. Some sang favorite Girl Scout songs, others baked treats for the reception, handed out programs, led the Pledge of Allegiance, Girl Scout Law and Promise, conducted a flag ceremony and collected food donations for the C.A.P. Center in Mamaroneck. Extra desserts were donated to the Open Arms Men’s Shelter in White Plains.

    The Gold Award Honorees & Their Projects

  • Rebecca Baron used her technical skills to produce a television segment showcasing pets in need of adoptive families. Her program highlighted the work of Pet Rescue, a local community organization that finds loving homes for abandoned cats and dogs. She said, “I chose this project after adopting a dog from Pet Rescue. I feel that animals are entitled to a full, happy life just as humans are, but, unlike humans, they rely on us to make that possible. Dogs and cats need a loving home with people who will care for them. My project was intended to help Pet Rescue reach their dream of finding loving homes for all animals.” Becky quoted Mahatma Gandhi, ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’”

  • Emma Kravet and Meg Vidler worked with Marshlands Conservancy in Rye, New York to reclaim county land that had, over time, unknowingly been cleared and utilized by residents along the western border. The girls acted as ambassadors for the nature sanctuary, asking neighboring families to voluntarily relinquish this land. Each girl led a team of volunteers in planting a natural barrier of native pine trees to permanently delineate the property line.

    Meg commented “I grew up hiking and volunteering at the Marshlands Conservancy and enjoyed many summers at the ecology camp there. I have a strong love and appreciation of this sanctuary so it has been particularly meaningful and gratifying to me to be able to make a personal contribution to its maintenance and preservation. As a child I saw residents fight the commercial development of land adjacent to the Marshlands because it would have been ecologically hazardous to the nature preserve. As citizens, we must all be caretakers and protectors of the natural resources in our community. I am so proud to be part of the efforts to protect the Marshlands Conservancy so it can be appreciated by future generations.”

    Emma continued “We want to encourage a sense of responsibility among residents for preserving and contributing to the care of local nature sanctuaries. The Marshlands Conservancy has always been a special and meaningful place for me. The love and appreciation I have for the outdoors has its roots in the Marshlands ecology camp I attended years ago and has been a significant part of my life ever since.”

    Both girls thanked the Curator of the Marshlands Conservancy, Alison Beall for her support, guidance and encouragement in making this project come to life.

  • Claire Morgenstern organized and executed a Midnight Run in New York City. She raised money to purchase toiletries and food, prepared brown bag meals and gathered donated clothing. Claire recruited and led a group of volunteers to drive into the city and distribute these much-needed items to homeless men and women on the streets. “It wasn’t just the homeless who benefited from this run. For many volunteers, this was their first Midnight Run and they had understandable anxieties and questions, which quickly disappeared after we arrived in New York City. I think it’s very important for those of us in Westchester to share some of what we have to help others in need. I chose the summer time for my run because there are twice the number of homeless on the streets but only half the number of runs.”

    Keira Rakoff, a dedicated cross country and track runner, wanted to share her passion for running as a fun and healthy lifelong habit. Concerned about the growing rise in childhood obesity, she developed a free, weekly Youth Running Club for low-income and immigrant children in Port Chester, New York that is now in its second year under the leadership of a local teen trained by Keira. “I was most fortunate to meet Father Timothy Zak, Youth Minister at Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester, who shared my dream of encouraging young children to become more physically active. Through a community based program, local teens now have an opportunity to develop leadership skills and serve as wonderful role models for their community.”

    Andrea Vignola assisted low-income, single mothers with newborn babies and young children through the Good Counsel Daystar Program at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison, New York. Through donation drives, she was able to help the Daystar Program purchase needed household items and computer equipment for the women that is used for teaching and employment skills. Andrea noted, “During the process of completing my Gold Award, I developed a true sense of pride in my project. One of the benefits was to raise awareness of the Daystar Program. I hope that others, particularly young children and those in high school, will look for ways to provide active support in their communities. What I most enjoyed about my project was establishing a relationship with the residents and their children. With another volunteer to assist me, I was able to spend a morning taking care of five children, giving the mothers some much needed free time to rest.”

    Five of the girls will be graduating from Mamaroneck High School in June; Becky from Rye Country Day School. All six will start college in the fall.

Editors Note: Girls rarely attain the Gold Award level without the active participation (prodding?) of their leaders. Also honored at the award ceremony were Ann Rakoff and Maris Vidler, troop leaders since 1994, who have shepherded the girls through all the stages from Brownie through Senior Scouts.