Ellie R., Ambassador Girl Scout
What are some of your favorite hobbies?
Camping, cooking, volunteering, and being outdoors
In a word, what does it mean to say, "I am a Girl Scout"?
What college do you plan to attend? Have you decided on your major?
I will be attending Duke University, and I plan to major in Visual & Media Studies/ Innovation & Entrepreneurship. I received the Coca-Cola Scholarship.
What is the title of your project?
The Heartful Project
Please describe your project. Be as specific as possible, including what, where and how you completed your project?
My Gold Award addressed the issue of insecurity and addressing lack of awareness of the impact harmful words and actions have on others. After careful consideration on how to address such an issue, I realized that the lessons learned from an early age majorly impact the type of values and morals people abide by later in their lives.
As a result of this realization, I addressed the root cause by creating an interactive curriculum for children between the ages of 5 and 8 years old. This curriculum included lesson plans that focus on kindness, giving, and unconditional love. The lesson plans correspond with a related book called The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
The curriculum was integrated into three primary schools: North Beach Elementary, Sadler Elementary, and Vanguard School. The teachers were given the resources and led discussions with their classrooms on the importance of kindness and compassion.
My goals for the project included generating a greater amount of knowledge and appreciation for the impact kindness and compassion can have on individuals in the community. Additionally, I aimed to have compassion become more widely practiced and normalized in schools to foster a more safe learning environment while increasing the number of kind allies in my community growing up with those lessons ingrained in them. This was done by means of interactive discussions about the emotions experienced after someone is kind, compassionate, giving, or loving in the school classrooms. I led my team by communicating directly with teachers on updates to the curriculum, consulting with teachers for advice on how to best create lesson plans, and delegating tasks to teachers after the curriculum was completed!
The children gained a greater knowledge and appreciation for the impact kindness and compassion can have on individuals in the school, home, and community. This was accomplished through their participation in classroom-wide discussions, individual activities, and group activities. Acts of compassion were practiced and normalized in the classroom and in the children’s lives after the conclusion of the lessons. The teachers assessed this knowledge retention and behavior integration by means of observation, level of class participation, and accuracy of activity completion. I requested that the teachers report their observations via a post-lesson survey so that I could develop a greater understanding of what worked and what did not to improve the lesson plans.
Overall, the reports from the teachers were excellent! The children learned how to apply these understandings of the power of kindness, giving, and love to their lives to increase their levels of happiness and adopt an optimistic mindset that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. The schools and teachers have agreed to reuse the curriculum and its resources for other holiday events, like Thanksgiving and Earth Day, throughout the school year and keep the curriculum as a part of their lesson plans.
Since the lesson plans can be modified to fit any lessons and subject of the school's curriculum, they will continue to be used by the teachers beyond my involvement. Additionally, the kindness calendar I included with the resources is an additional way for the students to share what they learned with their families at home. One of the most special moments I experienced in seeing this part of the project come to life was discovering a child got emotional (happy tears) from doing the individual assignment and having all the concepts “click” in his brain. He was touched and overwhelmed by emotions after developing an understanding of the feelings of joy that surface when compassionate to others.
Why is this project important to you? What gave you the inspiration to approach this topic the way that you did?
One school day two years ago, I was in a clear earshot of two boys who were speaking derogatorily about another girl about my age. They were calling her names and making hurtful comments about her appearance. I did not know this girl or these boys, nor did I have anything to do with the conversation. However, I felt angry and distraught that anyone could ever utter such words so casually with zero consideration of how this individual being spoken about might feel in their everyday life. I felt the need to create an awareness of the power that words and actions, no matter how small or large, can have on an individual. I started “The Heartful Project” to spread the message that being kind to ourselves, others and the environment all have the power to transform one’s mindset to be more optimistic. It was through this transformative experience that I became more aware of the fire I had within me to enact change in my community where I saw it was necessary. From that point in 2020 to now, I have been driven by my passions and happily thrown myself into helping my community through advocacy, leadership, and service.
What was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?
In my endeavors to create a children's book, I went through four different illustrators in an attempt to get drawings with the outline I created. However over the course of a few months, each illustrator after the other stated they could not illustrate the book after committing to doing so for an extended period of time.
I overcame these obstacles by deciding to base the curriculum on an already published book about giving and kindness: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I did so because I was running out of time to complete the project and needed to move on, so basing the curriculum on a book with the same message that my book was going to portray was the next best thing. This ended up working out splendidly as some of the kids were already familiar with the book and able to comprehend the lesson plans with more ease. I would like to add that I still plan on completing the book, though not for my Gold Award (due to a restricted timeline); it would be a longer-term project so as to give illustrators more flexibility in their creative schedules.
How does this project contribute to your future goals?
This project taught me about the ins and outs of managing and expanding a project from scratch. With the experience I gained from working on this curriculum, I have become aware of the characteristics an Executive Director of a nonprofit must possess to see success. I aspire to create a nonprofit that distributes funding to women working in sweatshops in unlivable conditions. We would work to remove these women from the “fast fashion” corporations they work for and support them by finding them jobs with Fair Trade certified organizations.
I plan on building such a nonprofit by double majoring in “Visual & Media Studies” and “Innovation & Entrepreneurship." What I learn in the former will give me the proper tools to communicate to worldwide charitable donors the message of why the nonprofit seeks to help these individuals and how their donation directly impacts the beneficiary.
What I learn from the latter will provide me with insight on how to build the nonprofit itself and grow it to a thriving stage in which societal change is the standard. With each year, a new community will be focused on and paired with a Fair Trade cohort. By observing these women as they build up their self-confidence, begin to more sustainably provide for themselves and their families, and lead a life that empowers them rather than depletes them of more energy day by day, I will know I was successful.
Applying what I learn from my network, entrepreneurial schooling, my Gold Award project, and hands-on experience to this vision while nurturing my humanitarian curiosity is what will guide me to the embodiment of the role of “Executive Director” and show me that I have made an impact on multiple communities-starting with mine.
What did you learn about yourself in the process of completing your project?
I learned that I am fully capable of handling large obstacles when they present themselves during project execution and that I can make reasonable decisions in the face of these matters. Additionally, I learned the importance of prioritizing certain tasks over others when under a time crunch in order to maximize productivity and outreach of projects. Every day I act in accordance with the message that I built this project upon- put yourself in someone else's “shoes” (or perspective) and see the impact you can create by simply being kind. With a future degree related to managing nonprofits, I know this project is one that will continue to flourish and aid in building more compassionate communities. The purpose I have envisioned for my life is quite simple. It is to be supportive, kind, and helpful to all those who I encounter throughout my life, the environment, and myself. I feel a beautiful sense of fulfillment when I am acting in alignment with this purpose. There is no doubt that the course of my life is unpredictable to a certain extent, but I know that at every juncture of my life I can live and be guided by this purpose. A purpose ingrained into me during time spent giving back to my community as a Gold Award Girl Scout.
What did you learn about your community in the process of completing your project?
I learned that there is more impact that can be made within my community and beyond! The lessons that the children learned will be spread as they grow older as they will pass on their teachings to other individuals in the community simply by embodying what they have already learned.