When five Girl Scouts were awarded the coveted Gold Award recently, the project which won them the honor could be seen as a way for them to pass on to others the leadership training they had received earlier.
But the award, although highly prized among Girl Scouts, is probably not the most valuable asset they will take from Girl Scouts. What they will almost certainly treasure most will be friendships the girls have nurtured for years, some since kindergarten.
Three of the girls - Ashley Dieterich, 17, Anna Harris, 16, and Lesley Graybeal, 17 - have been together in Troop 368 since kindergarten. Another, Devon Yeager, 17, joined the troop in first grade, and another, Bethany Dieterich, 15, joined a short five years ago. Most of the girls attend Evans High School. Lesley attends Greenbrier.
The girls are a rarity, said Mary Harris, the mother of Anna and co-leader of the troop. Many girls, she said, drop out of Girl Scouts by middle school.
Devon said having so many friends in the troop helped them cope with some of the difficulties and kept them active longer.
"Sometimes it's not that fun to do service projects," she said. "But when you do it with friends, it makes it easier."
The bond among the girls was not always as strong it is now, however.
Mrs. Harris said, "They've worked through a lot of differences."
Devon said the closeness and cooperation were sometimes slow in developing. She said that she and Ashley did not like each other very much when they first met. But their attitudes changed as they worked - often competed - on projects.
Their personalities are different, Devon said, and it took a while to understand that the differences did not have to keep them apart or hinder their projects.
Slowly they came to the conclusion, "this would really work better if we worked together," Devon said. "You have to bond if you're going to work together."
And a friendship was born.
Anna and Devon had a sour relationship initially also. But circumstances brought them together.
They were canoeing one day, and they both fell out of the canoe. "When we slipped out of the canoe is when we started working together," Anna said.
Devon remembered the boating mishap also, but she remembered running into a tree crawling with spiders.
"Those spiders were scary," she said. "I just took a paddle and pushed them toward Anna."
Both girls laughed at the memory.
One of the projects which brought them together was a booth they set up at the 2000 Roundup in Columbia County. The annual roundup is a gathering of Girl Scouts.
The girls helped Brownie Scouts learn how to make puppets and earn merit badges.
At first, they didn't know very much about making puppets.
"But we had the little Brownie handbooks," Anna said. That was only a starting point, however. They had to cooperate in figuring out the finer points of puppetry.
"They're a very creative group," Mrs. Harris said. "They just went through some of the books" and experimented.
They must have done something right, because during the Roundup, they helped Brownies make about 250 puppets and earn merit badges.
The project which won the girls the Gold Award, the equivalent of the Boy Scouts' Eagle Scout award, was also one of their most satisfying projects.
The girls helped the Greenbrier Middle School Student Council and the Evans Middle School Beta Club donate 50 backpacks stuffed with necessities to the Children's Advocacy Shelter in Augusta. The bags were filled with essentials such as socks, toiletries and school supplies.
"The lady at the center said when (the children) come (to the shelter), they often come with only the clothes on their back," Mrs. Harris said.
Devon said the middle school pupils grew in understanding as they gathered items for the backpacks. "The kids were moved by the contents of the bags. ... They really thought about what it would be like to leave home."
Next year, four of the girls will graduate and move on to college.
They say that will not be the end of their friendships, however.
"I don't think there's any way we could not keep in touch," Ashley said.
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