Gold Award Girl Scout: Katelyn Miller, Centennial, Project Homefront 

What did you do for your Gold Award project?

I researched and learned about the homeless veteran population to create a website full of information on this population. This website included resources on the population, resources for the population, as well as interviews with veterans (both homeless and not). I also created a website and lesson plan for the juniors and seniors at Grandview High School. This lesson plan included the video and a brochure on the importance of learning about this population as well as researching and educating themselves on issues. My website link is: www.projecthomefront.wix.com/homeless-vets

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

Measurement of my project can be seen through the analytic data of seeing the amount of people who’ve seen and participated with my website, as well as looking at the video that I gave the upperclassmen. The video measurement is found through more analytic data, by looking at the views of the video, and the interest by the upperclassmen in wanting to continue their education on this topic and others. They learned about the extremely difficult transition that veterans go through. And while the issue of the transition to civilian life can’t be solved without building an organization or through legislation, with the public knowing and understanding the difficulty, strides can be made. As people learn about an issue and the root cause of an issue, then the government or organizations have no excuse for not knowing why solutions aren’t working or how to approach the problem. Education on the population and on how important educating yourself on an issue is when you want to help solve that problem.

I also measured the impact of my project by looking at the amount of views my website gets, my YouTube video gets, how many shares my Facebook post gets, and how many donations of food and clothing items I receive. My website has its own analytics part to the webpage, so I can see how many people have viewed it and interacted with it. As of January 15, 2021,   my website has been viewed by 94 people from all over the country and my YouTube video has 32 views. Through the analytics for the website, I can see how the viewers got to my website and many went due to having the direct link, some came through the Girl Scout Gold Award blog post I wrote, and all the rest came through other ways. This could be through searching for it or getting the link through my YouTube link. As for donations,  as of January 4, I have donations of food and clothing items coming in. People have purchased from the Amazon wishlist link I set up and also through just buying items and giving them to me to give to the VOACO (Volunteers of America Colorado) location.

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

I have sustained my Gold Award project, Project Homefront, by getting signed letters of commitment from the teachers through Grandview High School saying that they will show my lesson plan and video to their students next year. This continuation commitment will allow for more students to learn about the homeless veteran population and learn about how important it is to educate themselves. Both these topics are the main issue I address in my Gold Award project and therefore my project will be sustained. As a part of my website, I included a comment section that will allow for people to add new resources and stories as they came across my website. The website will also be a sustainable part of my website as it is on the internet for years to come.

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

To achieve my national-global connection, I sent emails to fourteen VOA contacts from around the nation. I sent them my website and asked if they would link it to their local VOA website. This way if anyone in their area was on their website was searching for information on homeless veterans they would have the opportunity to click on my website to get some information. In my email I made sure to say that if I had reached the wrong person to ask for this favor to then email me back who would be the correct person to contact. I listed my website in the email and said that even though the project was aimed for people in the Denver Metro area that if people in their area wanted to add to the website then they could do so through the comment section at the bottom of the website. The VOA contacts I emailed were: VOA Los Angeles, VOA Sacramento, VOA Northern California, VOA Northern Nevada, VOA Carolina, VOA Florida, VOA Indiana, VOA Michigan, VOA Montana, VOA Ohio, VOA Tennessee, VOA Texas, and  VOA West Virginia. All these contacts specifically offered a  “Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program” which is why I singled them out as they were connected to the homeless veteran population like I and my project were.

Another national link for my Gold Award project, Project Homefront, is my website’s national outreach. From the analytics given by my website I am able to see that people all over America have seen and interacted with my website. While my project stems from the growing Colorado homeless veteran population, many of the resources and topics that the veterans mention apply to the homeless veteran population from every part of America. Based on the map analytic I can see that my website has been seen in 11 different states, including Colorado. This wide reach shows the national link that Project Homefront has.

In another attempt to add to the national link and appeal to people from all over the nation I added informational instructions on one of my padlets on my website. This padlet gave resources and information on homeless Veterans for the different locations around Colorado. And on the first area of the padlet, I included some instructions for anyone who wanted to find out about the homeless veteran population in their own area. I wanted to make sure that if people from out of state came across my website that they would be able to find out information on the veterans in their area. On this informational list, I included key terms and phrases for people to put into their search engine. I told them to search things such as: Homeless Veterans _____ (your area), Volunteers of America _____ (your city/location)– then click on homeless veterans tab, and veteran percentage of population in ____ (your area) then factor in the homeless number. All these searches would lead people to links and resources that would give them information on their own local homeless veteran population.

What did you learn about yourself?

What I learned about myself during this experience is that I can push through anything, that being able to adapt is incredibly important, and how to express my thoughts. I can remember how I was just getting started on my Gold Award project, Project Homefront, when we were told that we were no longer going to school and we were to stay in our homes. I was depending on the social aspect of connecting with people for every part of my project. Having to stay inside and not coming in close contact with anyone really halted my plans. However, even with this large shift in general life I found a way to move through it. I no longer could physically interview and meet people, so instead I set up Zoom meetings and phone calls. I learned the best way to search for information through the internet. I pushed through the restrictions. These changes even pushed me to do something I never thought that I would have to do: create a website. No one in my family had done anything similar, so I was truly on my own, but this didn’t scare me. In fact it made every small victory an amazing accomplishment in my mind. I can still remember the first time that I added a link and it worked, the first time I added a text box, figured out how to upload stories and pictures. Working through a platform I had never used before I found the successes in a time when I could have rolled over and quit. Throughout COVID-19, I also learned how important adaptation is.

With refusing to give up on the homeless veteran population, I found how success isn’t how you finish, but how you adapt with the changes. With every struggle and obstacle comes a chance to become stronger. I learned that the importance of others growth and success would force me to change and adapt more than any personal reason. The idea that without my project people wouldn’t know about the rising homeless Veteran population in Colorado, that these Veterans in need could possibly walk into a food bank and walk out just as empty handed as they walked in made me change any doubts into motivation. Throughout the summer of COVID-19, overpriced toilet paper, and shelter in place orders, I worked to possibly be able to provide a better day for one veteran or Grandview High School student. I learned that I could work for hours and just have one success and that would be a better feeling than any “A” that I had received on any test. I learned what drives me: the want to bring a better day, hour, minute, or second to someone who needs it. By working on Project Homefront, I found that anything I set my mind to I could accomplish. And by being able to adapt to the changing world around me I found what drives me.

Additionally, I learned how to use my voice to express my thoughts. With everything moved online, I wrote so many emails that I couldn’t even count them on both hands. With each email my professionalism and articulation of thoughts grew. I learned how to balance respect and urgency in my emails and communication. Being able to convey the importance of the need that the homeless veteran population took a while. I learned what were the correct words when speaking about the population as well as what are the most important statistics to include to get the recipients attention. I also learned the best way to inform the public on the population. When creating a website for the general population I had to appeal to all ages. This meant increasing the font size for those with eyes that don’t read as well, but also being engaging for audiences with a shorter attention span. In making sure that I communicate all the important information, I found new ways to group resources and statistics. This made the website much easier to understand and navigate. I also learned how to pass on information to upperclassmen high school students by showing information in an appealing fashion. When I created a script for my video/documentary, I knew I needed to keep my target audience in mind. They are 16 to 18-year-olds who are obsessed with the short and sweet life social media. In knowing this and keeping it in mind, I was able to create a video that would keep them engaged while giving them the information that I wanted them to know. This took many rewrites, but also took talking to an outside perspective. Learning that my idea was too structured and that students would not want to sit through an hour long documentary, so to choose the most important information for the students to know. All of these experiences that I had through making my project will set me up for success for the future communications I will have.

How will earning your Gold Award impact you in the future?

Earning my Gold Award will impact my future because it has shown me how much I can do if I just put my mind to it. This year showed no mercy with me starting my project with the assumption that I could learn about this population through volunteering and speaking in-person with the veterans, but COVID-19 created an obstacle no one was expecting. Even though it meant that my project became confined to my computer, I pushed through and was able to help the homeless veteran population get the recognition they deserve and teach the students the importance of their education. I will continue to use the perseverance and hard work that got me through my Gold Award to help me through whatever I do in my future.

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

The Gold Award was an important part of my Girl Scout career because it was a way for me to independently create a change and a better world. Throughout Girl Scouts, I’ve learned how important it is to be a person that creates the world better. Even if it is in a small way such as leaving a location better than you found it or giving up my seat to an elderly person; with my Gold Award I was able to create a change on a larger scale. Not only could my impact be seen in my target audience, but it could also be seen throughout my community. Seeing this outcome really not only changed the way I view my years of community service through Girl Scouts, but it has changed my view on the world I will soon join as I continue my academic education as well as my education on the people in need around me.

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

Earning my Gold Award helped me become a go-getter as I strived to change the view on education on issues as well as the perception of a population. Thinking of the homeless veteran population as “homeless” brings the connotation of drug addicts, alcoholics, and people living in the bottom of society, yet what these veterans truly are is “unhoused”. Through my Gold Award, I was able to change my view and my website readers’ view on this population. This is something that I could have only discovered in myself through choosing to complete my Gold Award. By learning more about this population and discovering that these people who have served our country so bravely and so selflessly are experiencing and fell victim to homelessness, they are unhoused. By changing this simple word we change the view we have on this population: if they are unhoused then they can be helped by being given shelter, but if they are homeless then they are beyond the help of the rest of the population. By bringing this change of thought and perception to my target audience I was also able to bring up the topic of education. That even though social media provides a connection to friends and family around the globe that might have been out of reach in other generations, it is still the job of the people and of the young students to educate themselves properly on issues. The character limit on social media sites is too small to be able to provide the full story on any situation, and the sooner students learn that the sooner problems they want to solve can be solved. The emotion-filled words that show up on Facebook and Instagram also come with an algorithm that shows the interests of the person on the other end of the phone. The phenomenon of interest bias is built into every social media platform and to believe that this isn’t true just adds another issue to solve.

Both these ideas were brought forth through my Gold Award project: Project Homefront. These nuances brought a level of confidence and work ethic that I had never had to use before. My Gold Award brought to life the fire to convince people to have confidence in themselves without losing their confidence in others, so that we can face the issues that surround us starting with the veteran population who are experiencing homelessness. And this go-getter attitude will influence my life till I take my last breath.

**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.