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35 Arizona Girl Scouts honored with Gold Awards for community impact

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Gold Award projects included establishing programs to improve mental and physical health, sustainability, and animal welfare, as well as addressing gender bias, lack of medical access, gaps in educational curriculum. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
Gold Awards is the highest honor for any member of the Girl Scouts
Staff Reports | Digital Free Press

The Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouting, has been awarded to 35 local girls this year from the Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council.

The prestigious Gold Award is presented to girls in grades nine to 12 who have utilized the skills acquired in Girl Scouts to showcase sustainable and measurable impact through problem-solving of relevant issues on a local or national level by completing a Gold Award-worthy project, according to a press release.

“Making an impact on our world is what being a Girl Scout is all about. Each Gold Award project is a journey that tells a story of a girl and the cause that is important to her,” says Mary Mitchell, co-CEO of GSACPC. “Gold Award Girl Scouts set the gold standard in our community, and GSACPC is proud to honor an astounding 35 awardees this year who are making lasting change.”

Gold Award projects included establishing programs to improve mental and physical health, sustainability, and animal welfare, as well as addressing gender bias, lack of medical access, gaps in educational curriculum and more.

“Gold Awardees have long laid the groundwork for impactful projects through their involvement in Girl Scouts and this is just the beginning for this group of young innovators,” says Christina Spicer, co-CEO of GSACPC. “Recipients are not only carrying this honor and meaningful change with them for life, but also setting themselves apart in scholarship applications, college admission essays, and job interviews.”

The 2024 Gold Award Girl Scouts and their impactful projects are:

Zoe Golston – Scottsdale

Healing Young Hearts

Growing up, Zoe witnessed her loved ones struggle with their mental health issues and always made an effort to support them in any way. For her Gold Award project, Zoe wanted to give her Girl Scout Sisters the knowledge and resources they’d need to recognize and act on mental health hurdles. Zoe created mental health workshops that were made to accommodate the needs of the different Girl Scout levels – hosting various activities including yoga, breathing exercises and journaling. Additionally, she created informational pamphlets for community members and held a Jingle Gold Hike in collaboration with a fellow Gold Awardee to teach girls about mental health and environmental sustainability while taking a walk outside. Through her project, Zoe reached 250 Girl Scouts, including 14 troops, and received positive feedback on the lasting impact of her workshops. A Girl Scout of 13 years, Zoe hopes to attend college after graduating from high school where she’ll major in theatre. 

Cassandra Gookin – Scottsdale

Stop The Silence: Support Resources For Everyone

After being diagnosed with Lyme Disease in middle school and witnessing her mom overcome invisible disabilities such as nerve damage from back surgery, Cassandra became aware of how others treated them. To challenge the notion that a disease’s severity is dependent on its physical visibility, Cassandra began raising awareness about what invisible or silent disabilities are and how they can affect people. She created a website where she posted blogs to educate others on invisible disabilities, support resources, and created a free patch program for all Girl Scout Daisies-Ambassadors. Cassandra plans to attend Scottsdale Community College and continue her project by adding more blogs and interviews to her website.

McKinley Paltzik – Scottsdale

Welcome to America

While researching for a speech about Afghan refugees, McKinley discovered the story of Fahima, one of thousands of refugees resettling in Arizona, inspiring her to start her Gold Award project. With the Valencia Newcomer School for first-year refugee children in Arizona, McKinley crafted a free English tutoring program to support students as they transition from refugee schools to public schools. McKinley interviewed teachers, studied ESL teaching strategies, and practiced with students to help them succeed academically. The stories and friendships that came from this experience remind McKinley of what it means to lead with care and compassion. Mckinley studies government and economics at Harvard University.

Jenny Pasternack – Scottsdale

Reading Buddies

After seeing how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted literacy rates and learning experiences for children, Jenny created Reading Buddies, a summer program for kindergarten and third grade students to participate in reading and writing activities alongside “teen buddies.” With 55 teen volunteers, Jenny served children in the Scottsdale Library System and Mustang and Civics Center, sharing her love for reading with everyone who participated. Jenny will be attending Emory University to study public policy analysis.

Jayla Richardson – Scottsdale

Music Soothes the Soul: Music As Medicine

Living with her grandmother diagnosed with dementia, Jayla witnessed the power of music in her grandmother’s health and well-being. As a musician herself, Jayla recognizes the benefits of music, helping people relax and focus. Through her project, Jayla addressed challenges that people living with dementia experience related to memory loss, confusion, anxiety and stress. She provided an accessible and free music program for seniors at Angel Adult Day Center. Jayla curated music playlists and videos on YouTube from different decades, Christmas, and relaxation videos. She also donated a TV, an Amazon Firestick and Apple TV to increase accessibility in two areas of the center. With the help of senior residents, Jayla created a wall display of album covers, sparking conversations between the residents about their favorite artists. The leadership, project management and financial planning skills gained throughout her 12 years of Girl Scouting shine through every corner of this project. After graduating high school, Jayla plans to major in neuroscience to study how music impacts the brain.

Spencer Wareing – Scottsdale

Saguaro-Pueblo Bilingual Performance Outreach Program

To integrate fine arts, more specifically the impact of theatre into STEM curriculums, Spencer partnered with local schools to emphasis the importance of STEAM-based learning and organized the first iteration of the Performance Outreach Program (POP) during the winter of 2022 and spring of 2023. With the help of elementary school teachers, Spencer led a group of high school students to teach them about theatre: set and props design, play scripts, costumes, and more. As students prepared to perform their plays, Spencer was greeted with gratitude and handmade letters from students whose lives had been changed because of the Performance Outreach Program. Spencer’s project increased an understanding of STEAM education, and established meaningful partnerships with teachers, and parents/guardians involved in their children’s learning experience. Her Girl Scouting journey of 13 years instilled leadership and a spirit of determination, leading her to join the Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance as a double major at Southeast Missouri State University.

Tiffany Wong – Scottsdale

Kickstart the Arts

Stemming from her passion of dance, Tiffany dedicated her Gold Award project to providing art centered opportunities for her Girl Scout Sisters in the Pima neighborhood. She created four art badge events and multiple badge plans for Girl Scout Daisies, Brownies and Juniors. From producing the plans to planning and hosting the events, Tiffany found her project to be a creative outlet, further feeding her love of the arts. A success, Tiffany’s events saw double the attendance from art centered Girl Scout events the year prior, her badge plans are currently hosted on a website for volunteers and Girl Scouts to easily access. A Girl Scout of six years, Tiffany attends the University of Arizona studying speech, language and hearing sciences with a minor in educational psychology.

Lilly Zahnow – Scottsdale

Digital Songbook

To recognize the collective heritage within Girl Scouting and the importance of passing this heritage down to the next generation, Lilly collaborated with over 15 Girl Scout councils across the nation to create a Digital Songbook collection of camp song lyrics, rhythms, and other regional differences. Lilly achieved the Girl Scouts’ highest accolade by showcasing 10 years of essential teamwork, communication, and organizational skills acquired within the organization to creatively promote cultural memory and inclusivity. Lilly measured the success of her project by conducting Girl Scout focus groups to discuss the impact, effectiveness and ease of use of her database. Lilly is a graduate of Notre Dame Preparatory High School in Scottsdale. Lilly currently attends the University of Texas at Austin and is pursuing a degree in Theatre Education.

Payton Dymek – Phoenix

Use Your Voice Platform

After her internship as the head sports broadcaster for Vietnamese Arizona American Television, Payton’s passion and appreciation for journalism grew, inspiring her Gold Award project. To address gender biases in English language classrooms, and the perception of women in journalism, Payton created a website containing free lessons to learn about the journalism field, such as writing, broadcasting and other forms of media. Beyond Arizona, she was able to reach students in other states such as California, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Illinois, and New York. She also had students from South Africa engage with her project. After 12 years of Girl Scouting, Payton plans to expand her skillset and pursue a career in journalism, marketing and communications.

Amanda Ray – Phoenix

Low-Cost Ingredient Recipes

To help better her community and inspire others, Amanda made a difference through food. Amanda created a recipe book with low-cost ingredients and foods that are commonly donated to food banks to help patrons cook higher-quality meals. She also distributed printed and online copies to multiple food banks throughout Phoenix. Amanda received direct staff feedback on her project’s effectiveness, and to test that her recipes were simple, easy, and delicious, Amanda hosted a cooking event and taste test with her team to prepare the meals themselves. As a result of her project, Amanda has established relationships with local food banks in her area and donates annually to provide support. Amanda is a student at Chaparral High School, and she plans to attend Arizona State University to study business.

Maya Schnee – Phoenix


After 13 years of Girl Scouting, Maya dedicated her project to creating an outdoor learning space for students in a low-income neighborhood. Maya repaired the school garden and taught students how to maintain it so it can truly sustain itself over time. Before starting her college journey at Northern Arizona University, Maya was diagnosed with scoliosis, but that did not stop her from creating positive change in her community.

Winter Gonzales Warnicke – Phoenix

Teens for TNR

Inspired by her cats, Winter started Teens for TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return), an intervention program to decrease cat overpopulation by humanely neutering them and returning them to their colonies. This protects cats from diseases and cancers, allowing them to live while the population in the colony stabilizes and slowly decreases over time. Though she had been connected to TNR’s mission since she was nine, she contributed to their cause by conducting two trap jobs and launching a website to inform communities about TNR which included a database with links to TNR resources in every state and a workshop to spread awareness. Winter is now carrying this unique piece of her Girl Scouting experience in her pursuit of careers in biology and English at Smith College, a historical women’s college in Massachusetts.

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