Gold Award Girl Scout: Emma Graziano, Arvada, “Connecting Celiac Teens: Project CeliACT”

What did you do for your Gold Award project?

Ever feel like you didn’t belong or imagine not being able to have dinner with friends because you can’t eat what they’re eating?  “Connecting Celiac Teens: Project CeliACT” was my effort to create a support group for teens living with celiac disease. This is personal for me because I have celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage of the small intestines. Living with celiac disease can be challenging because the only known treatment is the adherence to a strict gluten-free diet. This support group was created for the Denver Celiac Support Group, a local chapter of the National Celiac Association (NCA), because the group had previously struggled to establish a teen program. The goal of my project was to connect with other teens living with celiac disease and create a bond with those facing similar issues; all while learning together how to advocate for ourselves and educate others about celiac disease. My effort included finding ways to identify new teen members while creating a sustainable operating framework for the Denver support group. Through various outreach, advertising, and publicity efforts to the public, I was able to gain 19 new members and successfully start a support group for teens living with celiac disease.

How did you measure the impact your Gold Award project made on your target audience?

When I started my project, the Denver Celiac Support Group organization had 311 adult members and approximately 70 youth members with only three teen members, including myself. In the past year, I’ve recruited 19 additional teen members to join the support group for a total of 22 members through my outreach efforts.

Additionally, I knew I was making an impact with the teens and their families by the various email feedback I was receiving along the way from my target audience:

“I would be thrilled to join this group!”- Morgan M., teen member

“Hi, I’m Nate’s mom and I think this is a fantastic idea.”- Nicole P., parent

“What a great thing you’re doing by organizing this! I wish you all the success and hope to have my little girl, she’s 8 now, participate in something like this in the future.”- Angela T., parent

“I’d love to join the group for dinner.  Looking forward to it, thanks for doing this!”- Ryan S., teen member

“I just wanted to say that it was so cool that you organized a group get together. It’s a great idea…thanks, again. Good luck!”- Michelle S., parent 

“I got your letter about Teens with Celiac Disease and would like to participate. I have celiac disease as well as my sister, mom, grandma, and best friend. Thank you.”- Lowri M., teen member

“This is so amazing, thank you so much! What a great project for you, and you’re helping so many people.”- Julie L., parent

How is your project sustainable? How will your project continue to impact after your involvement?

The Denver Celiac Support Group has committed to continue to sponsor the teen support group program. My project advisor, Maria Brotherston, is the Children’s Program Director and she will oversee the group. More importantly, several of the younger teens in the group have expressed interest in leading the group when I leave for college.

What is your project’s global and/or national connection?

My efforts to create a teen support group for those living with celiac disease began in the Denver area. While promoting my Celiac Disease Presentation and Panel Discussion event through publicity efforts with an interview with Reporter Karen Morfitt of CBS4/KCNC-TV and various Facebook posts about the event and the interview, I was contacted by Carla Carter, Director of Outreach and Programming for the National Celiac Association. Ms. Carter said she had been following my progress and asked if I would be interested in submitting my story for their spring magazine. I was thrilled to be asked and humbled by the opportunity.

The NCA magazine is circulated nationwide to more than 3,000 members as well as more than 500 libraries and hospitals nationwide. Not only was my picture (with my Girl Scout vest) on the cover of the magazine, my story was featured as the centerfold of the magazine. In my article, I offered my assistance to any other group or program wishing to start a similar experience in their state or hometown and hope that I will be contacted in the near future.

What did you learn about yourself?

Throughout the course of my project, I learned the importance of developing good communication, presentation, and writing skills. At each stage of my project, I was either talking with someone, writing to someone, or presenting to someone and telling them about my project mission and goals. As a result of my project, I learned to write better and improve my presentation skills. I knew it was important for me to be prepared in each of my presentations. I knew any emails that I sent had to be professional and well-written. Prior to my project, I had never done a phone interview, media interview, or acted as a moderator for an event. Through my project, I learned to go outside of my comfort zone to speak to others, ask for help from others, and be a better communicator.

How will earning your Gold Award impact you in the future

Personally, I learned why I enjoy participating in the celiac teen support group so much is because I realized I like helping other people. In the future, I plan to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. I want to become a nurse because I enjoy assisting other people and I love making people feel better and feel supported. My Girl Scout Gold Award project caused me to realize my passion and solidify my career goals for the future.

Why do you feel the Gold Award was an important part of your Girl Scout experience?

In addition to communication skills, I developed several important leadership skills during my project as well. I learned how to connect and collaborate with other organizations and people while advocating for myself and others with celiac disease. I learned how to plan and organize a large-scale event. Through my efforts, I learned about project management and time management. Through each of these efforts, I was building awareness for celiac disease, my project, and what I was trying to accomplish with the teen support group. I think each of these skills helped me to be a better leader as I worked to promote awareness of celiac disease and attract new teen members for the support group.

How did earning your Gold Award help you become a G.I.R.L. (go-getter, innovator, risk-taker, leader)? 

Prior to earning my Gold Award, I considered myself usually adverse to taking risks or putting myself into strange or uncomfortable situations. However, during my journey to earn the Girl Scout Gold Award, I learned to take risks and go outside of my comfort zone to achieve my goals. The research and planning work I did for my project really helped me to realize that it’s okay to take risks in order to make progress. Additionally, I learned that sometimes taking risks means encountering a few challenges and making a few mistakes along the way. I realized that working closely with my mentor and learning from my mistakes is what enabled me to continue my efforts in order to earn my Gold Award.

**IMPORTANT NOTE: This blog represents only a small fraction of the hard work, dedication, and requirements that go into earning a Girl Scout Gold Award. It is simply a brief summary, which is meant to inspire Girl Scouts to Go Gold in the future. For more information on earning your Gold Award, please email highestawards@gscolorado.org