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Girl Scouts team up to provide protective gear during pandemic

BEDFORD, NH – As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold earlier this year and it became clear that healthcare providers did not have access to adequate amounts of personal protective equipment – now well known as PPE – Girl Scouts leaped into action to address the need. For the first time, Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains organized a team project to produce the needed items and give Girl Scout Juniors (those in grades 4 and 5) a chance to earn their Bronze Award. The award is the highest honor a Girl Scout Junior can earn.

The project had 103 participants – 67 from New Hampshire, 17 from Vermont, six from Arizona, 10 from New Jersey, two from California, and one from Massachusetts. These 103 Girl Scout Juniors united virtually to produce more than 600 masks, along with dozens of care packages, face shields, ear savers, and hand sanitizers to provide to their communities across the country, with plans to make hundreds more. Each dedicated at least 20 hours to this project and donated to neighbors, nursing homes, hospitals, friends, families, the National Guard, camp staff, the general public, and more.

For five weeks, starting in April and ending May 29, the girls met online through Zoom twice a week for an hour each time. “It was completely the girls’ choice to decide what they were going to make and where they were going to donate and how they would make their projects sustainable,” said Devon O’Hara, program delivery specialist for the Girl Scout council serving girls in New Hampshire and Vermont. “There were a couple of girls who worked together outside of our meetings because they were neighbors or knew each other from school, and we also shared where people were donating each week so others could donate there as well.”

The Girl Scouts chose to make face masks, ear savers, face shields, hand sanitizer, and care packages. They also created websites and tutorials on how to make PPE and the best way to wear a face mask. Every girl improved her skills in areas like sewing, organizing, and planning. Each girl was responsible for coming up with a way to educate or inspire, make her solution permanent, or change a rule, regulation, or law to earn her Bronze Award.

When they met online, Girl Scout alumnae and other adults volunteered their time to teach them how to sew by machine or by hand, or to explain what it is like to be a nurse in a hospital who uses PPE. O’Hara said the three alums “were well versed in sewing and one of them held up examples of types of fabric and string and her iron and scissors and really walked through hand sewing. Another mentor showed the masks that she had made and focused on how to use different ear attachments. The third mentor showed examples on her sewing machine and angled the camera so the girls could see what she was doing while she explained her tricks. Each mentor answered questions live as well.”

Girl Scout Adrianna Sidelinger, 10, of Putney, VT, decided to make masks for the medical staff at the nursing homes in Brattleboro, VT, where her mother works. “I’m using material with Girl Scout designs and also going to donate some Girl Scout cookies with the masks,” she said. “The staff has asked if I’d do some for their children that have to go to daycares, so I’ve added some child-size masks with Fourth of July material. I’ve never sewed on a sewing machine before and I’m really enjoying it.”

Julia Balzano, 11, of Salem, NH, figured out how to make her own hand sanitizer from alcohol, antibacterial solution, a drop of food coloring, essential oils, and aloe vera. “It took a few times to figure out how to make it good,” she said.

Addison Linscott, 9, of Exeter, NH, hung her first batch of masks on a fence in her hometown on May 23, and less than 24 hours later, they were gone. “She included information on how to wear and wash the masks with each one!” said her mother.

Madison Hannemann, 11, of Manchester, NH, said “My favorite part of the Bronze Award is all of the meetings and seeing everyone’s project!”

Noelle Prince, 10, of Bedford, NH, said “I love being creative and helping others stay safe so this project helps do both!”

It is unusual for Girl Scouts from other states to join in on a council project. “Before we even announced the launching of this program, we had out-of-council people inquiring just from seeing it on our website,” said O’Hara. “As soon as it was announced in our new virtual programs list, we had others want to join from out of council almost immediately.”

Girl Scout Troop 83506 of New Jersey was one of those groups, and they made masks by hand and received donations of masks to make care packages for 184 senior citizens. The care packages included masks, soap, body lotion, snacks, and information on how to protect yourself from COVID 19 and were decorated with uplifting messages.

Girl Scouts have a long history of helping in hard times. They participated in food and clothing drives during the Great Depression, collected scrap metal and ran courier services during World War II, and lent their voices to the fight for racial equality in the 1960s. Today, Girl Scouts are making a difference in many ways, including this team project.

The Girl Scout Bronze Award is the highest honor available to Girl Scout Juniors, those in grades 4 and 5. To earn the honor, Girl Scouts must spend at least 20 hours on a project that will benefit the community, learn important leadership skills, discover new passions, and see how seemingly small actions make a big difference.

A second session with a new team of Girl Scouts is running from June 1 to July 3. For details, see https://www.girlscoutsgwm.org/en/about-girl-scouts/virtual-troops-programs.html.

Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains is proud of the girls who stepped up in this time of need and met the challenge of working together under the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. They will become Bronze Award Girl Scouts, who have changed the world for the better. As the girls grow up, they become eligible to earn the Girl Scout Silver and Gold Awards, all of which are the mark of the truly remarkable.

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