Gold Award Girl Scout Emma Albertoni of Arvada was a featured speaker at Girl Scouts of Colorado’s Women of Distinction Thin Mint Dinners in both Denver and Colorado Springs. She told the audience of Girl Scouts and supporters how Girl Scouts helped her find her voice.
As a 2017 Gold Award recipient and winner of the Stephanie A. Foote Leadership Prize for Gold Award Excellence, I am excited to share not only the work I have done through Girl Scouts, but the work that Girl Scouts has done for me.
I started Girl Scouts in first grade – a whopping 12 years ago. I joined Troop 1721 of Arvada, which met in the teacher’s lounge at my elementary school. All 17 girls in that troop would run around playing games, make a mess on the table doing crafts, and discuss cookie season with mouths full of snacks. I went to camps in the summer, learning a lot about myself along the way. After a rainy mother-daughter camp experience, I learned my mom and I are more of a “spa-day and hotel” kind of campers than the “soggy sneaker and cold tent” kind of campers. I remember how I sold cookies, setting goals for the number of packages that I wanted to sell, and making posters for our booth– all while strategizing how placing cookie packages in the ROYGBV order would make our booth look enticing to customers. I remember making very… unique… outfits for World Thinking Day on my troop leader’s sewing machines, hoping that we didn’t mess up with the limited fabric we had. But the ‘fun’ things were not all that I did in all my years of Girl Scouts. Of course, I sold cookies, earned badges, and went to camp, especially when I was younger. But, these ‘fun’ things helped me later on, and I have come to realize the magic of Girl Scouts is how the things you do impact you on a deeper level.
My Girl Scout experience evolved as I got older and my troop began working on our Highest Awards. So you can understand the scale of each award, I’ll compare them to a body of water. First, the Bronze Award. Think Lake Michigan. For the Bronze Award, my troop paired up to do a “Charity Convention.” Each pair picked and researched a charity. We made posters, so our guests could learn about each one, what to donate, and how to donate. Next up, the Silver Award, which is like the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike other girls, my troop and I had difficulty coming to an agreement over what our project should be, so to appease everyone, I split off and did my project on my own. To earn my Silver Award, I collected more than 150 old t-shirts and upcycled them into bags. I gave these bags to an organization that was providing sanitary supplies to homeless women so it would be more private. I also gave some to a food bank in Arvada, and one in San Diego.
Last, but definitely not least (in any sense of the word), was the Gold Award. My Pacific Ocean. The Gold Award is the highest honor in Girl Scouting. It requires you to find an issue in your community and develop a solution. The Gold Award must be sustainable, connected nationally and globally, show leadership, and educate the public. Daunting, right? Ideas came and went, but nothing panned out. I finally found my project by looking at my own life. I was 16- years-old, buying my first car, looking at college tuition, and working a summer job. I was dealing with larger sums of money than ever before and I realized, I didn’t know anything about using it wisely. Talking with my parents about credit scores, loans, and budgeting made me wonder, where did they learn it all?
My project began by researching financial education in Colorado. I found fiscal topics are “woven” into K-12 classes, but the curriculum does not teach the students how to apply this knowledge. I discovered, through surveys and interviews, students didn’t even realize these principles were being taught. Since students weren’t learning the practical application, they would just leave the information behind. I didn’t believe this was right. Everyone needs to understand how to be responsible with their money, and that was not being addressed in Jefferson County schools.
I started by meeting with the principal and Family Consumer Sciences (FCS) teacher at Ralston Valley High School. The FCS class covered some financial literacy topics. But, it was an elective course taught to only 30 students/year. The teacher allowed me to create a new unit on financial safety online. It included PowerPoints, videos, discussions, and quizzes about things like identity theft, hacking, and password security. The teacher is now teaching my unit every year. I didn’t stop there. I proposed to the JeffCo School Board to make financial literacy a required class. The school board is now taking a closer look at how financial literacy is taught. Finally, I began working with Colorado legislators, including State Representative Lang Sias. They are interested in providing guidelines for educators on teaching financial literacy, as well as hosting a Financial Literacy day at the state capitol.
Finally, my brother and I started Down With Dough, a 501(C)(3) organization that seeks to inspire and advance knowledge of financial literacy through supporting, sharing, and improving education. Down With Dough will continue to partner with legislators, as well as other sponsors in order to one day see the improvement we need in education surrounding financial literacy. We have received tax exemption status, and are now looking for donors to help us fund curriculum development and further our work.
As I now look back, I see that Girl Scouts taught me skills that I never would have learned elsewhere. The magic of Girl Scouts is how the things you learn when you’re younger amidst all the fun, build on each other until you can accomplish a Pacific Ocean sized goal. The crafts we made in the teacher’s lounge helped me find individuality and creativity. The camps taught me how to make friends, be confident, take risks, and work as a team. I learned leadership through the Girl Scout Cookie Program, which included getting myself out of my comfort zone to sell a product by developing marketing strategies. The Cookie Program also taught me how to be a go-getter by setting small goals in order to achieve a large goal. And, sewing outfits taught me how to solve problems and be an innovator. All these qualities I learned through the fun of Girl Scouts, and they all helped me get to where I am today.
Before Girl Scouts, I was very shy. In fact, I was talking with my troop leader the other day. We joked about how out of the five girls still in our troop at graduation, no one would’ve guessed it would be me standing here today. But, Girl Scouts brought me out of my shell. I was awarded the Prudential Spirit of Community Award in Washington, D.C. earlier this year. I met amazing young men and women from all across the country who are doing great things for their communities, just like I am. They taught me about different subjects like nonprofit classification, grant writing, and each other’s passions. I was awarded the Veterans of Foreign Wars Scout of the Year Award, where I stood in awe as veterans stood and applauded my hard work and dedication. I stood in front of Olympic Gold medalist Michael Phelps and Colorado Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennett with a confidence I would not have had, had I not been a Girl Scout. Because of Girl Scouts, I had the drive, passion, and confidence to audition for the University of Denver Lamont School of Music, where I am now a Classical Violin Performance major. I look forward to going through school, into my career field, and my future with Down with Dough with passion and leadership skills to be successful. Girl Scouts gave me a safe place to speak my mind and share ideas – it gave me the opportunity to find my voice.