By Camille De Beus

To most, the words “Girl Scout” evoke images of cookies galore or memories of a group they participated in briefly during their younger years. But for Madison Seifer, Natalie Gold, Lana Biren and Zoe Parcells, the mention of “Girl Scouts” will always carry more meaning.

Each of these four Girl Scouts received the Gold Award at the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles’s (GSGLA) annual Gold Award Ceremony on June 4. Established in 1916, the Gold Award is considered Girl Scouting’s highest honor. Nationwide, only about 6 percent of all Girl Scouts ever earn this award, and those who do receive this award are rewarded by honors such as the ability to enter the military one rank higher and qualifying for more college scholarships, among other things.

In order to earn this honor, each Girl Scout is required to complete a large-scale project, which requires each girl to go work on their project for 80 hours, working on a process proposal and creating a website.

“Although there is a lot of work involved, I just think the idea that I would be making a difference and being an activist for something is what really motivated me to do it,” Seifer said. “My friends were really helpful and supportive, we all helped out each other with our projects, and I think the idea of being independent on a project was really cool.”

Seifer’s project, “Bridging Our Circle of Friends,” aim was to spread awareness about kids with disabilities. In particular, Seifer’s project brought attention to the fact that many kids with disabilities are being mainstreamed into public schools rather than going to school in specifically special needs schools.

“There are some kids that aren’t as high functioning [that] have to go to school with just special needs kids because they can’t be around the general education kids,” Seifer said. “I think the idea of having a voice for those kids is really important because they’re really underrepresented in the high school society. Also, my uncle works at one of those schools, and when he passed away I thought it would just be a really great idea to commemorate everything that he contributed to that school by being able to stand up for kids that have no voice.”

Seifer’s project not only earned her the Gold Award but also truly made a difference in the community. After one of Seifer’s friends visited the website she had created and read the research she had done, he confided to Seifer that he had Tourette’s syndrome.

“Although he had a very mild case, it meant so much to me to see that he trusted me enough to tell me such an intimate detail about himself,” Seifer said. “I think it’s just amazing that I made an impact on his life — made him feel comfortable enough to tell me that.”

While Seifer chose to provide a voice to the underrepresented with her project, Gold’s project inspired where inspiration seemed to be lacking — inspiring girls to go into engineering.

“I want to be an engineer when I’m older and wanted to find out more about women in engineering,” Gold said. “I found out only 14% of all engineers world wide are women, which is a very small percent. The lack of women in engineering is because girls don’t know about the field or don’t have [the] inspiration to pursue engineering.”

Gold created pamphlets and a website that described almost every type of engineer and how each engineer can make the world a better place. Her website also placed a special emphasis on women engineers, including interviews from 25 women engineers from around the country. Additionally, she presented this information in the Los Angeles and Santa Monica areas to help inspire young women, like herself, to pursue careers as engineers.

“The most meaningful experience was hearing feedback from all the girls that I spoke to,” Gold said. “They all said that they now know what an engineer is and does and that they might pursue a major or career in engineering because it sounds interesting. I felt like I was making a difference and getting more girls interested in engineering, which was my whole goal.”

Similar to Gold, Biren utilized the Gold Award project as an opportunity to help other students.

“My Gold Award project, ‘Use You Head, Wear a Helmet’, evolved from observing on my way to school every day, many students riding bikes without helmets,” Biren said. “I wanted to raise awareness about the serious dangers of head injuries from possible bicycle collisions and to encourage more kids to wear helmets.”

Biren’s website is a combination of warnings of the various dangers that riding without a helmet can incur, along with true stories about helmet use and a way to purchase discounted helmets. Her website helped start a conversation in the community about the importance of wearing helmets.

“It was very meaningful to me when people would come up to me at a community event I was at, and tell me stories about someone they knew who got in a bad bicycle accident and how wearing a helmet saved their life,” Biren said.

In a different vein, Parcells decided to use her Gold Award project as an opportunity to protect her home-the entire beach town of Santa Monica.

“I had always hoped to tackle the huge issue of plastic pollution, which I have seen to be devastating in my area,” Parcells said. “I found the best way I could start was through completing a Gold Award project focused on plastic straw pollution. Plastic straws are an unnecessary tool for many and are the fourth largest beach pollutant in Los Angeles. Reducing plastic straw pollution in my community through service and outreach creates a healthier and more beautiful environment for the community of humans and animals.”

Parcells’ project helped raise awareness about plastic straw pollution within the community one individual at a time. She saw this direct effect after presenting this information to a fifth grade class.

“A few weeks later I received a comment on my website from someone in the class,” Parcells said. “They told me they had gotten a reusable straw and had stopped using straws entirely. Seeing that I could have an impact on someone really made my project more significant to me.”

Mother of Gold and Girl Scouts leader of troop 8355 Lisette Gold saw these four young women grow up in the Girl Scouts community and watched as they earned their Gold Awards. According to Lisette Gold, Girl Scouts provided these four with an audience for their voices.

“Girl Scouts is the mission of building girls of character, leadership and courage,” Lisette Gold said. “What makes me so proud is that each of the four girls picked something that they were very passionate about, and it speaks so much of them [and] of what they saw in the community that they wanted to help solve or help fix. They actually took on a leadership role to change it-to change their community, to change their world.”