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The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest and most prestigious award in Girl Scouting. Only 5.4% of eligible Girl Scouts successfully earn the Gold Award. Approximately one million Girl Scouts have earned the Gold Award since 1916. Any Girl Scout who has earned the Gold Award has reflected outstanding leadership and citizenship skills. It has inspired girls all around the world to find the greatness inside themselves.

Emily Heard, a Senior at Saint Monica Catholic High School in Santa Monica, has been a Girl Scout since she was in the first grade. For her Gold Award, she is focusing on the issue of empowering children with disabilities, specifically, children impaired in interacting with people and objects around them.

More than 100 million disabled people are children. She has noticed that children with disabilities do not get as much assistance as those who do not have a disability. Emily has an 8-year-old cousin who has down syndrome and he inspired and motivated her to help other children with disabilities. She selected this project because she loves working with children and wanted to give all children a chance to have fun in an environment made for them. Since the beginning, her goal has been to create a safe and accommodating environment for all children, no matter the disability. She wanted it to be a place where they could go to calm down and unwind.

After a lot of thought and consideration Emily finally came up with the idea of creating an art/sensory room for children with disabilities. After searching the internet, she then found a facility called Wayfinder Services, which is located in Ladera Heights, California. Wayfinder Services has been helping children and adults with special needs since 1953. Their mission is to ensure that children, youth, and adults facing challenges always have a place to turn to.

Her project entailed going in and cleaning out the room. Emily noticed that it was extremely dull and boring and that she needed to find a way to make it a happier and inviting environment. She could tell that the room had not been painted in a while and decided to give it a fresh new coat of paint. The color she decided to pick was a light blue in hopes that it would brighten it up, and it did!

From there she has spent countless hours on numerous projects. Emily spent her entire summer refurbishing a table, 4 chairs, recycling wine crates to create a storage unit, putting -together 120 activity kits for the children, creating a sensory wall/walkway, collecting donated art materials, creating an interactive ABC and braille board, and many other sensory items.

Another important aspect of her project was bringing awareness to other children about disabilities. She knew that children with disabilities are at an increased risk of being bullied and wanted other children to understand that children with disabilities need the same love, care, and attention as children without disabilities. Her plan was to make it clear that just because other children are genetically impaired it does not give them the right to treat them differently. To explain the topic of disabilities she created pamphlets and talked about the different types of disabilities through zoom to 3 different Girl Scout troops in the Marina Del Rey, Santa Monica, and the Pacific Palisades area, all of different age levels.

Emily hopes that by doing this project and putting it out there, that other people will treat children with disabilities with empathy and kindness and be willing to help them! If you are interested in donating art supplies to help Emily’s cause, please contact her family at: delfin68@ca.rr.com

GSGLA is the largest girl-serving nonprofit agency in Los Angeles, with programs in entrepreneurship, life skills, outdoor, and STE(A)M. To join, volunteer, or support, visit GirlScoutsLA.org or call 213-213-0123.