Our Gold Shines Bright: Rebecca’s Story
HONORING HOMETOWN HEROES
I have been in Girl Scouts for 12 years, but this past year was the most monumental and life-changing year as I worked on my Gold Award. My troop has always engaged in many different community service events. I was repeatedly drawn to projects involving veterans, like when we made over 100 Christmas boxes for veterans at the VA Hospital, or made cards and sent Girl Scout cookies to injured soldiers, or—my favorite—when we recycled wooden pallets and painted them as American flags to give to veterans. So when I was searching for a Gold Award project, it seemed like destiny when I came upon the idea of making banners to hang up celebrating and honoring veterans from my hometown. I called my project Honoring Hometown Heroes, St. Marys, Ohio.
Over the summer and fall of my junior year of high school, I met and worked with City managers, the publisher of our local newspaper, members of local veterans groups, and several aspiring graphic artists. I needed the City’s help and permission to hang the banners on city light posts, and I needed the newspaper publisher’s help in making the banners. They were so enthusiastic about the project, and several key people were terrific role models and mentors to me. I learned so much about communication, organization, and planning from them. In the end, I transformed my idea of making 24 banners to fill up our downtown streets into almost 200 pictures / banners of local veterans and currently serving military persons flying proudly over St. Marys. The banners stretch for miles from the southern entrance to St. Marys on Main Street, throughout downtown’s historic business district on Spring Street, and then all the way to the northern entrance on Spruce Street. The banners are 7 feet high, 3 feet wide, and feature a picture of a veteran against the backdrop of the American flag, and share information about the veteran, his / her rank, branch of service, the years they served, and if they served in any wars or conflicts or were awarded any medals. They are beautiful and inspiring and allow us to share with the world our proud heritage of military service. There are veterans from every war or conflict, men and women, and they represent every branch of military service. Another 100+ banners are expected to be hung up in the spring of 2019.
In addition, part of my Gold Award project was to bring my community together and encourage people to rebuild the downtown shopping district. I organized a Veterans Day ceremony to dedicate the banners and honor our hometown heroes. The Marines asked to be included to celebrate the 243rd birthday of the Marine Corps. The local downtown businesses agreed to hold the first ever Downtown St. Marys Holiday Open House on this same day and time. This encouraged people to come to the Veterans Day ceremony and then walk downtown to see all of the banners and shop our downtown businesses. The project worked. People focused on how wonderful the banners looked and how proud they were of our hometown heroes. The publisher of the paper commented to me that she had never heard people in St. Marys so united in excitement and support for a project ever, and that my project actually got people to be united in support.
This project impacted me on so many levels. Personally, I learned so much about the people in my community. Their stories moved me. They were stories of sacrifice—such as the woman who dropped off a photo of her fiancé. She told me that she was on a plane to Hawaii to get married the next day, carrying her wedding dress. Before they landed, they pulled her aside to tell her that her fiancé had been killed. He fought bravely and saved many other lives and for that, he earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. She wanted a banner made for him to honor his service and life. We placed his banner in the heart of the downtown. I also learned about interesting jobs service men and women had, such as a Wagoneer in World War I, or a female crew chief for the B1B bomber planes, a woman from Iowa who was in the Navy WAVE program and met and married an injured Purple Heart soldier from St. Marys, and a soldier who was a long range fighter pilot in World War II. There were hundreds of these stories, and each of them moved me deeply. I developed a profound sense of appreciation for all of the men, women, and their families.
For me, one of the best things about doing this project was sharing it with everyone. I created a Facebook page where I posted slideshows of the veteran’s banners and information about Veterans Day. The page has hundreds of followers from over 25 states. Most of these are people who have relatives in St. Marys. They can’t be here in person to see the banners, so the Facebook page allows them to see and share them with others. It also allows currently serving military persons to see the banners no matter where they are around the world. Many of the families have shared pictures with me of their child visiting St. Marys on a break and getting a picture taken with their banner. One mother wrote, “Steve came home today and saw his poster and was so pleased … We did a tour of the vet trail of posters. Wow! What a joy to give thanks and recognition to these worthy brave Americans.”
I also loved sharing the project with elementary students in grades 3-5. My goal was to teach them about community service, contributing to your community, and making a difference like our hometown heroes did with their service. I showed them pictures of local veterans and explained what they did in the service. Many of them knew at least one of the veterans in my presentation, and were so excited and proud to see a banner with their loved one’s picture. They learned so much about our community, our country, and our values. It was very heartwarming, and I loved it when students would approach me later when I was at a football game or at a high school event and they would excitedly tell their parents that I was the girl who did the banner “speech.”
My Gold Award project was a life-changing experience. It gave me an opportunity to use all of the different skills that I’ve learned from 12 years of Girl Scouts and Journeys and badges and apply them to a complex, multi-faceted project that involved communication, technology, challenge seeking, community problem solving, and many other skills. My leadership skills exploded. I developed so much confidence in my ability to lead, communicate and coordinate, organize and plan, and solve problems. My Gold Award project has forever shaped the person I am today, and I couldn’t be happier or more proud about it.