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Prestigious Gold Awards bestowed to 22 local Girl Scouts throughout Valley

Recipients of the Gold Award not only seek to change the world for good and establish themselves as community leaders, but awardees can also take advantage of scholarship opportunities. (File Photos/
Local Girl Scouts recognize distinguished community service efforts
Staff Reports | Digital Free Press

Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council is announcing Gold Awards to 22 local girls this year.

This distinguished award recognizes Girl Scouts in grades 9-12 who take action in their communities by tackling an issue they are passionate about and developing sustainable solutions to local, national, and global challenges, according to a press release.

“This year’s Gold Award honorees exemplify fantastic leadership and civic engagement by dedicating themselves to addressing important causes and taking action to make the world a better place,” says Christina Spicer, co-CEO of GSACPC, in a prepared statement. “As a nationally recognized symbol of leadership, the Gold Award is a truly remarkable achievement.”

According to Mary Mitchell, co-CEO of GSACPC, this year’s Gold Award winners tackled prominent issues faced by their communities by establishing designated mental health spaces for students on high school campuses, fighting food insecurity in Indigenous communities, building the first dog park located in a national park, designing inspirational campus murals with world-renowned artists, collecting bikes and helmets for children of military families and creating online resource platforms for youth, among other projects.

“The Gold Award allows Girl Scouts to showcase the problem-solving, communication and time management skills they have learned throughout their experience in the organization and prepares young leaders by giving them the confidence to succeed,” Ms. Mitchell said. “By earning the Gold Award distinction, the 22 awardees join a legacy of Girl Scouts that have used their passion and persistence to make a lasting positive impact on the community.”

Recipients of the Gold Award not only seek to change the world for good and establish themselves as community leaders, but awardees can also take advantage of unique scholarship opportunities, are entitled to enlist at a higher pay grade when they join the military, distinguish themselves among the competition in the college admissions process, and when entering the workforce.

The 2023 Gold Award Girl Scouts and their impactful projects are:

Falak Asif
Cubs’ Den

Aiming to raise awareness on mental health in the community and get a head start on her future career, Girl Scout and aspiring psychologist Falak Asif created Cubs’ Den, a place for students of Arizona Cultural Academy & College Prep to relieve their stress and learn how to cope with their emotions in a healthy manner. Impacting over 100 students in grades eight-12, Cubs’ Den provides a safe and fully supervised space on campus for students to destress through toys, art, puzzles, books and more. A Girl Scout of over 10 years, Falak credits the organization for providing her with the proper leadership and project execution skills to successfully carry out her Gold Award project goals. A graduate of Arizona Cultural Academy & College Prep, Falak looks to continue her exploration in the field by attending Arizona State University to study psychology.

Evvie Atkins
Finessing Your Financial Future

For Evvie, earning the Bronze and Silver Awards empowered her to pursue a unique Gold Award project that encapsulates everything she’s learned from her 13 years of Girl Scouting. To teach high school students and young adults about finances, Evvie launched Finesse Your Financial Future, a program to teach basic financial information via videos, worksheets, and quizzes through Google Classroom. She filmed 13 videos about saving and spending money. Through her project, Evvie was able to understand finances better and use her learnings from the Girl Scout Cookie Program to create a rewarding and educative project. She advises her fellow Girl Scout Sisters to choose something they’re truly passionate about and connect with their mentor to ensure the completion of a successful Gold Award project. Evvie plans on pursuing a post-secondary education degree in Earth Sciences, English, or Communications.

Hailey Bates
Green Against Mean

As a victim of abuse, Girl Scout Hailey Bates attended Scottsdale’s Hunkapi Farms to heal through equine therapy. Hailey used her Gold Award project to help kids like her and give back to the farm that means so much to her by donating a greenhouse using funds raised through donations and the Crowdrise donation platform. The greenhouse will help the Hunkapi Farms introduce a gardening program into their equine program, providing more opportunities for participants to heal and cope from PTSD and trauma. In addition to providing the greenhouse to the farm, Hailey also spread the word on the benefits of equine therapy to the community. A Girl Scout for over 15 years, Hailey says the organization has made her a better person. Hailey plans to go to trade school and one days hopes to run her own equine program and give kids a place away from home to heal.

Amanda Bernier
Bikes and Helmets for Military Kids

Growing up a military child, Girl Scout Amanda Bernier often saw kids disappointed at Christmas time when they could not receive a bike due to their loved one being deployed. To prevent this, Amanda set out on her Gold Award mission to collect bikes and helmets for children of families on Luke Air Force Base. Collecting over 50 bikes in all from handing out flyers and contacting local organizations, Amanda donated the bikes and helmets at a Military Assistance Mission Christmas event. A Girl Scout of over 10 years, Amanda credits the organization for equipping her with the skills to manage, plan and organize events. This helped her earn the title of vice president of the student body at Shadow Mountain High School, the school she has since graduated from. Now, Amanda plans to attend Northern Arizona State University for a degree in psychology.

Cori Borgstadt
You are Loved CEHS Mural

Looking to connect students and staff under a common message and make her high school campus a better and brighter place, Girl Scout Cori Borgstadt took inspiration from Boston muralist Alex Cook and his popular mural art series to earn her Gold Award. Collaborating with Cook to transform a 43-foot gray wall at the Centennial High School into a colorful mural that reads “You are loved,” Cori worked with Cook to design the mural and bring it to life by hand painting, learning about the artistic process of painting a public mural along the way. A Girl Scout for 12 years, the organization has given Cori the opportunity to learn important marketing and communication skills through the Girl Scout Cookie Program and helped her travel across the country with her troop. The Girl Scout currently attends Texas Tech University where she is getting dual degrees in economics and business management and minoring in film and media studies.

Jessica Burke
Education in Nutrition for Indigenous of Arizona

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Girl Scout Jessica Burke was made aware of the issue of food insecurity on Indigenous communities and the implications it has on health. To fight food insecurity and encourage a healthy diet, Jessica used her Gold Award as an opportunity to share how to make a nutritious meal that is fit for the Indigenous palate by publishing “Native Health Cookbook,” a collection of recipes with tips on how to have a healthy lifestyle. “Native Health Cookbook” makes use of commodities that are provided to recipients who participate in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations program and was donated to the Native Health food pantry, a local center that distributes food to Indigenous families. Flexing the important communication and teamwork skills she has learned over the past 12 years in the organization, Jessica was able to make a difference. The Girl Scout looks to continue the work of her Gold Award project as she plans to study nutritional or food science in college.

LeAnna Clipper
Outdoor Desert Survival Day

Driven to help children learn about outdoor safety, LeAnna held an Outdoor Desert Survival Day to teach children what to do in case they ever get lost outdoors. The session was full of activities that LeAnna planned and organized herself. Since she was a Daisy, LeAnna has participated in the Girl Scout Cookie Program, learning management and communication skills that have helped her complete her Gold Award project successfully. One of her favorite things about being a Girl Scout is not only the lifelong friendships she’s formed, but the community service projects that sparked her passion for helping those in need. LeAnna is now attending Arizona State University as an Organizational Leadership major to continue to lead different communities.

Marissa Denham
Wags for Awareness – A Dog’s Cancer Journey

In 2021, Marissa’s 3-year-old service dog was diagnosed with cancer, inspiring her to start Wags for Awareness – A Dog’s Cancer Journey, and help other dog owners prevent future health issues in their pets. Marissa created two patch programs for new pet owners, and for those who recently had a pet diagnosed with cancer. While the new pet owner bags contained information about pet insurance, vaccinations, and blood donations, the ‘cancer journey’ bags included more interventions and how to care for your dog after surgery. To help families and individuals that have a dog that’s been diagnosed with cancer, Marissa started a Facebook group to share important resources, and form a close-knit community. As a Girl Scout of 12 years, the skills and learning experiences she’s accumulated over time empowered her to pursue her Gold Award, which then taught her more about project management, collaboration, empathy, and decision-making. To continue her studies, Marissa plans to attend Polk State College and major in Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics.

Megan Finder
Husky Shadow Award

As the student body president of Hamilton High School, Girl Scout Megan Finder noticed that some of her fellow students often go unrecognized despite their impact on the school’s community. To help these students receive their well-deserved recognition, Megan established the Husky Shadow Award, an award in which school security teams nominate senior students for their persistence and optimism at school. Receiving acclaim from both classmates and parents, the award has since expanded to all six high schools in the Chandler Unified School District and earned her the Desert Financial Community Service Scholarship and Chandler Education Foundation Impact Scholarship. A Girl Scout for over 13 years, the organization has introduced Megan to lifelong friends and mentors as she now looks to attend Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University for a degree in management and sports business and a potential master’s degree in sports law.

Misha Ghafouri
Paradise Valley
Iranian Youth Connections

As a first generation Iranian American, Misha often felt there wasn’t a welcoming space for Iranian American youth to connect with one another and learn from passionate Iranian leaders, which inspired her Gold Award project, Iranian Youth Connections. This online platform is dedicated to creating a welcoming space for Iranian youth to connect, learn more about Iranian culture, and gain skills to become successful leaders in their community. To ensure her project’s success and sustainability, Misha created a website and partnered with the Iranian American Society of Arizona to provide high-quality mentorship and programs for Iranian youth. She was also invited to speak at their annual gala and held a booth at the annual Persian New Year Festival with an audience of 5,000 people. Her Gold Award project helped her gain confidence and professional networking skills that have helped her share the importance of her cultural heritage. As a Girl Scout of 14 years, Misha will continue to amplify her voice and advocate for the Iranian American community at a local and global level.

Elisabeth Green
Best Buddies Interactive Garden

After participating in the Best Buddies Club at Mountain Ridge High School for four years, a club that promotes one-on-one friendships between students with intellectual and developmental disabilities and those without a disability, Girl Scout Elisabeth Green noticed that her club’s meeting space, the campus garden, needed an upgrade. With this, Elisabeth set off on her Gold Award project to improve the space on campus. With help from the community, Elisabeth was able to install yard art pieces, provide new seating options, build sensory-friendly activities like a texture wall, sand table and more, and lay a large wheelchair accessible grass area that is big enough to fit the whole club. Elisabeth has been a Girl Scout for 13 years and would like to become a lifetime member of the organization. Elisabeth plans to graduate with her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Northern Arizona University and to eventually obtain a doctorate in nurse anesthesia, specializing in children and adults with disabilities.

Amelia Gualtiere
Self-Pride/Esteem Mural

After personally experiencing low self-esteem and seeing the impact of bullying on close family members, Girl Scout Amelia Gualtiere made it her Gold Award goal to help uplift students and bring a positive spirit to her high school classmates. For her project, Amelia designed and painted two inspirational murals in the cafeteria of Paradise Valley High School. The first mural displays butterflies with the quote, “If nothing changed in the world, there would be no butterflies.” And the second mural is of the sun and planets with Gandhi’s quote, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Additionally, Amelia also created over 20 slides of inspirational quotes that played on rotation during the school’s morning announcements. A Girl Scout for over 12 years, Amelia is proud of her participation in the organization and grateful for the memories she has made with her troop. The Girl Scout is currently enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps with a job in intelligence.

Ella Hamer
Girl Scouts In STEM

For her Gold Award project, “Girl Scouts in STEM,” Ella Hamer aimed to combat the underrepresentation of women in STEM careers, especially engineering. To do this, Hamer collaborated with Pima Neighborhood Day Camp to provide STEM lessons, activities and a presentation about women in STEM for girls in kindergarten through sixth grade. Ella held lessons for girls with a focus on engineering principles like hands-on learning, problem-solving and the Engineering Design Process. The goal of Ella’s educational workshops were to set girls up for academic success and to inspire them to consider a future career in science or engineering. Survey results from participants before and after the project revealed an overall 67 percent increase in understanding, with the most effective classes covering 3D printing and Newtonian Physics. Ella is now a graduate of BASIS Scottsdale and her project’s mission will continue as Pima Neighborhood Day Camp plans to continue offering girls opportunities to learn STEM during the summer.

Emma Hirning
In This Together

After experiencing physical assault her freshman year of high school, Emma was determined to speak up and take action regarding bullying and the way schools address it. To start the conversation, Emma produced a video to educate her high school about an app that allows students, parents, and community members to anonymously submit information to school administration. This encouraged many students to come forward and report their experiences, leading to a 520% increase in traffic on the app. As someone who has always been interested in film, creating a video with that amount of success was a great accomplishment and learning experience that taught her more about video production. As a Girl Scout of 12 years, Emma values friendship and the amazing travel opportunities she was a part of, and she now looks forward to attending Northern Arizona University to study athletic training.

Awen Hofmann
Sanctuary Repair

As an animal lover and regular volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary, Girl Scout Awen Hofmann looked to expand on her work by creating a proper living space for ducks at Liberty Wildlife, a local non-profit providing wildlife rehabilitation, environmental education and conservation services for the community. For her Gold Award project, Awen refurbished enclosures for ducks by leveling the ground, washing, adding gravel and securing the entire enclosure with ¼’ fencing to protect it from other animals. As a result of Awen’s project, Liberty Wildlife now has a well-draining, safe environment for ducks and smaller birds alike. Awen has been a Girl Scout for over 15 years and credits the organization for having a positive impact on her life as well as teaching her valuable money-handling and customer service skills. Awen currently plans to attend Washington State University for veterinary medicine and eventually create her own animal sanctuary in addition to helping other already existing ones.

Katie Holm
We Mean to Help

Noticing the need for mental health help for younger audiences, Girl Scout Katie Holm made it her project goal to be a resource for those who don’t know where to go for help. To do so, Katie created We Mean to Help, an online program containing resources on hotlines, psychologists, and coping mechanisms for mental health. In addition, Katie’s program also contained a blog where she educated users on the different types of mental health disorders and a podcast where she hears personal stories from students and teachers on what they have done to improve their mental health. While the We Mean to Help program mainly impacted Arizona, the resource was able to reach users worldwide and make a difference that she hopes to continue growing in the future. A Girl Scout of 12 years, Katie credits the organization for teaching her important life lessons and leaving an impact on her life. Graduating from Desert Vista High School, Katie plans to double major in material science engineering and psychology at Arizona State University.

Bailey Iannone
Start Something Positive

To create a welcoming and loving Girl Scout experience for all girls, Bailey led a troop of girls with disabilities for two years and filmed a video series that taught how to facilitate meetings with all girls in mind and shared tips on how to foster meaningful friendships to help leaders and fellow Girl Scout Sisters form inclusive troops. Bailey also interviewed leaders, families, and girls to identify their needs and help find solutions to make programs, troop meetings and activities accessible for everyone to participate in. Through her Gold Award project, Bailey learned about the importance of giving back to the community by advocating and taking action to support Girl Scouts with disabilities. A Girl Scout of 13 years, she’s learned how to trust her strength, and jump into adventure with courage and positivity. Bailey plans to attend Arizona State University as a Computer Science major.

Lauren Jarvise
Growing Literacy

With a love for reading, and her volunteer work with Clothes Cabin, a nonprofit organization that provides clothing and shoes to children and families experiencing poverty, Lauren identified a need for a library to entertain and educate children that visit the organization’s playroom. She organized a book drive and received over 1,600 books to gift to families. Then, she built a bookcase and created bilingual pamphlets to teach others how to get a library card and increase awareness about library resources. Every month, Lauren restocks the bookcase with new books and has received great feedback about her project. A Girl Scout of 12 years, Lauren recalls her experience being one full of encouragement, confidence, and support. After high school, Lauren plans on earning a degree in mechanical engineering.

Elizabeth Parker
Paws in the Park

Elizabeth Parker grew up visiting National Parks across the nation. During one of their trips, Elizabeth’s family struggled to find a place for her dog to exercise off leash and began to brainstorm ways to help families traveling with their pets. While working for the Petrified Forest National Park, she heard conversations about opening a dog park and began planning her Gold Award project – the first dog park in a national park. To educate the community about the importance of having a designated area for dogs, and the different ways to protect their pet from becoming injured during a hike or other outdoor activities. Throughout her 12 years of Girl Scouting, Elizabeth has gained valuable leadership skills that have helped her find solutions to the issues in her community. As a member of the GSACPC Girl Voice Committee, she has learned how to effectively use her voice and advocate for her Girl Scout community. Elizabeth plans to attend Arizona State University and receive a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Production and Design.

Zariya Shams
Refugee Education and Tutoring

While doing a project for her AP Research course, Girl Scout Zariya Shams realized the significance of language barriers for the younger refugee populations. Zariya used her Gold Award project to address this by helping tutor English to young refugees. Zariya contacted local refugee assistance organizations and schools to find volunteers and then paired each student to a volunteer or tutor to work with weekly. Zariya took part in these tutoring sessions and led weekly orientation sessions for tutors, creating individual sheets for them to use to track the progress of their student. As a result of Zariya’s project, the target audience was able to improve English skills in reading, writing and speaking. Zariya is graduating from Hamilton High School in 2023 and even though her Gold Award project is complete, she plans to build on her tutoring work by recruiting volunteers from across Arizona to help aid students.

Emily Shanafelt
Arizona Go Vote

At the National League of Cities Conference in Washington D.C., Emily connected with youth representatives to address the lack of civic engagement across the country, inspiring Arizona Go Vote: a project to register teens at local high schools to vote. To get started, Emily toured the Maricopa County Elections Department and published a series of educational videos to teach community members how to vote. To spread the word, she also designed flyers, and coordinated a group of teens to distribute them in 10 high schools, reaching over 10,000 students. To continue her work, Emily joined the Goodyear Youth Commission and now serves as the Co-Chair, where she’s learned more about local government functions and how important it is for citizens to be civically engaged. As a Girl Scout of 12 years, Emily plans to attend Arizona State University and study biomedical engineering.

Viviana York
Phoenix Coding Academy Girl Ambassadors

As a student at Phoenix Coding Academy, a school where 20 percent of students are female, Girl Scout Viviana York aimed to address the gender gap at her high school and in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and, Mathematics) careers. To help get more girls enrolled to our technologically focused school, Viviana created a weekly club on campus to give girls a community and a support system that also encourages them to share the benefits of STEAM with fellow girls. Through PCAGA, Viviana was able to empower fellow girls to gain confidence as a student in a male dominated field and successfully expose more girls to STEAM careers. Viviana was also able to showcase her leadership skills as the president and founder of her club, where she set up events, meetings and field trips. PCAGA plans to continue to make an impact on campus after Viviana graduates from Phoenix Coding Academy in 2023.

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