Girl Scouts Of The USA Reveals The 2015 National Young Women Of Distinction

Ten girls are highlighted by Girl Scouts of the USA for their outstanding Gold Award projects that activate change in their communities and the world.

2014 National Young Women of Distinction at Girl Scout Convention (PRNewsFoto/Girl Scouts of the USA)

Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) is excited to announce the 2015 National Young Women of Distinction. These 10 extraordinary females are receiving the highest Girl Scout honor because their Gold Award projects demonstrate extraordinary leadership, have measureable impact and sustainability, and address a local, national, and/or global issue. From addressing the decline in bee populations and working to stop violence against women to providing wider access to an array of educational tools for people of varying ages, these girls are igniting meaningful change in their communities and around the globe.

“Our 2015 National Young Women of Distinction have demonstrated remarkable leadership through their extraordinary Take Action projects,” said Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. “At such a young age, these girls are creating positive change in their communities, identifying local solutions that relate to global issues, and taking sustainable action to make a difference in the world. We are proud to recognize the contributions and achievements of these exceptional girls and cannot wait to see how they continue to inspire, influence, and innovate as the leaders and social entrepreneurs of tomorrow.”

The Girl Scout Gold Award, which turns 100 in 2016, represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. According to Girl Scout research, Gold Award recipients rate their overall success in life significantly higher than non-recipients and report greater success in reaching their life goals. Moreover, they feel their accomplishments in their lives (95 percent), their education (94 percent), their careers (92 percent), and their financial life (78 percent) are largely due to the unique experiences they had and the skills they developed through the Girl Scout program.

This year’s honorees will be celebrated on October 7, 2015, at Edith Macy Conference Center in Chappaqua, New York.  For those who can’t attend the event, GSUSA will be hosting the ceremony and moderated in-depth discussions with our Gold Award recipients via livestream. The livestream link will be available mid-September.

Meet Girl Scouts of the USA’s 2015 National Young Women of Distinction:

Pooja Nagpal, Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles
Pooja’s project focused on ending violence against women worldwide by teaching self-defense to women and girls in rural villages in Himachal Pradesh, India, and battered women’s shelters in Los Angeles, California. As a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo who is also trained in street fighting, Pooja created a two-part curriculum that not only successfully strengthened girls’ and women’s physical abilities but also exercised their mental acuity through discussions and activities around leadership, community service, confidence, and education. This past year, Pooja founded For a Change, Defend, a non-profit organization, and spoke at numerous events in the efforts to raise awareness around domestic violence and female empowerment.

Hadiya Harrigan, Girl Scouts of Western Ohio
Hadiya created a web development handbook, available online, and contains more than 20 lessons for students and the public to learn and MySQL. As a member of the Cincinnati Black Data Processing Associates and a participant in the High School Computer Competition, Hadiya understood the importance of developing a resource that is constantly updated and that keeps useful information about web development in a centralized location. As a passionate advocate for greater girl involvement in STEM fields, Hadiya hopes that her handbook will bring more girls and young women into the world of STEM and help bridge the STEM gender gap.

Julie Kapuvari, Girl Scouts of Nassau County— New York
Julie’s Gold Award project—a collaboration with the Homecoming Farm, an organic community-supported farm on the property of the Sisters of St. Dominic convent, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County—channeled her passion for environmental science and her concern over the worldwide decline of honeybee populations. In an effort to assuage the sisters at St. Dominic’s beekeeping fears, Julie enrolled in the Long Island Beekeeping Association apiculture class to become more fluent in the nature of honeybees, dispel common behavioral misconceptions, and highlight the benefits of a beekeeping program. As a result of Julie’s actions, she received a grant from the Long Island Beekeepers Club (LIBC) for a nucleus of 1 queen and 5,000 honeybees. As a novice beekeeper and member of the LIBC, Julie continues to give presentations to members of her community on the impact of her project and how it has resulted in a local, sustained pollination source that will help with food production on the farm for years to come.

Rebecca Pober, Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama
Rebecca produced, filmed, edited, and narrated a documentary on domestic human sex trafficking called“Project P.A.T.H.—People Against Trafficking of Humans” that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) now uses for training purposes. In order to make the documentary, she conducted research with the FBI and local law enforcement, interviewed victims, their families, and elected officials, and secured sponsorship to cover costs. She also created a documentary website that included information about human trafficking and helplines for victims. Once the documentary was completed, Rebecca traveled throughout her region to build awareness and spread the message around human sex trafficking.

Elizabeth Martin, Girl Scouts of Peaks to Piedmont—North Carolina
Elizabeth addressed bullying by focusing her Gold Award project on helping pre-school children develop a strong sense of self-worth and positive relationships with others as well as developing resources for teachers and parents. She created a “Shine Your Own Way” box that included a brochure with positive parenting tips, a series of childhood books featuring various bullying scenarios, an activity booklet for children to learn better ways to express their feelings, costumes for children to role play the activities and concepts from the books, and a video for new teachers informing them how to use the program. The role-playing scenarios help children understand how it feels to be a bully, what it’s like to be the bullied victim, and how to stop a bullying situation. Elizabeth has distributed her boxes throughout her community and has positively impacted hundreds of students.

Liza Villaneuva, Girl Scouts of Orange County—California
Liza established iDREAM Express, a nonprofit organization that creates mobile learning centers around the world. iDREAM is an acronym for imagination, discovery, research, education, art, and music, all components of the program (which also includes hygiene and nutrition). Liza launched iDREAM Express in the Philippines, knowing that poverty and the lack of education are prevalent issues there. She partnered with several church volunteers in the Philippines to ensure the program’s sustainability, as well as the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Currently, the learning centers travel to two locations—Bacolod and Silay—weekly. At these locations, children of all ages are washed, provided slippers, taught several subjects, and fed. They also treat wounds and are given the opportunity to participate in fun activities. In the near future, Liza plans to expand her project in order to create more learning centers in other countries and eventually across the globe.

Jamielee Buenemann, Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri
Since the general public is wary of introducing alternative energy into their homes due to concerns over high costs, lack of knowledge about alternative energy, and fear of complex machinery, Jamielee embarked on a mission to demystify renewable energy and make it tangible for the average citizen. Jamielee designed and constructed a residential-scale wind turbine—constructed almost entirely from previously used materials from her home—in an effort to promote new sources of energy. She was selected to represent the Regional Science and Art Fair at the International Sustainable World Energy Engineering Environmental Project Olympiad and the International Science and Engineering Fair, where she presented her project to students, community members, scientists, engineers, and other young high school researchers from around the world.

Annie Cai, Girl Scouts of Northern California
Annie created Imaginarium, a career development conference that teaches students about public speaking and entrepreneurship, in addition to building their confidence. In an effort to bridge the gap between what the career world expects from students and the education system that is preparing students for that world, she wanted to develop a resource that would strengthen students’ entrepreneurial skills around business management, finance, and communications. At the conference and with guidance from industry professionals, students transformed their creative ideas into business plans for an array of products, from apps that promoted driving safety to entire bathrooms that reused water. Imaginarium participants made their dreams into reality and the program is cultivating our future business leaders.

Alexa Iannace, Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania
Alexa addressed the issue of child pornography through a documentary featuring experts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Pennsylvania State Police. She partnered with several members of law enforcement and the District Attorneys who investigate child pornography crimes and advocate for the victims to create her documentary. Through several presentations of the video, Alexa equipped her audiences with information to help them make a difference in the life of a victim and cleared up many misconceptions about child pornography. She also provided viewers with a comprehensive list of sources they could use to further educate themselves on the topic and information on how to report incidents of online child exploitation. Her audience included several students who are studying criminal justice and social work at different universities, as well as a Cyber Crimes Taskforce, which represented 10 law enforcement agencies including the US Department of Homeland Security and her county’s Bar Association for District Attorneys.

Sarah Schurr, Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta
Sarah focused on a three-part project—an educational booklet, a toolkit and a website—provide useful tips and techniques to help professional and familial caregivers better communicate with elders suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, or social detachment. This project was inspired by Sarah’s personal experience watching her extended family struggle as her grandmother demonstrated signs of dementia. By consolidating information on the sensory changes that come with aging and detailing techniques for facilitating meaningful communication, Sarah hoped to build others’ understanding of the physical changes elders face and help them more effectively connect with those suffering from or at risk for social detachment. Along with a copy of her booklet, her toolkits—called “Talk to Me” treasure boxes—hold resources such as sensory mats, conversation starter cards, and photo albums, each designed to begin and sustain conversation. The finished boxes were donated to a local hospital and multiple assisted living centers.

Both the Kappa Delta Foundation and Girl Scouts of the USA generously provided a $5,000 college scholarship to each of the 10 National Young Women of Distinction to support their education.

This year’s National Young Women of Distinction entries were reviewed by Girl Scouts of the USA staff and an external selection board made up of funders and partners, including the following: Kappa Delta, Techbridge, Peace First Prize, Prudential Spirit of Community, Alpha Phi Omega, AIG Investments, Rockefeller Philanthropy, Toyota Financial Services, Dell, Met Life Foundation,, and many others.

Earning the Gold Award and receiving scholarships are just two of the incredible opportunities girls have through the Girl Scouts. To join Girl Scouts or find out more about the Gold Award, please visit:


Photo courtesy of PRNewsFoto/Girl Scouts of the USA

About the author

Natasha Zena

Around age eight Natasha Zena was told it was a woman’s job to take care of the home and since then she has built a career out of telling women they can do whatever the hell they want to do. She is the co-founder of Lioness, the go-to news source for everything female entrepreneur. Natasha was recognized as an emerging leader in digital media by The Poynter Institute and the National Association of Black Journalists. She has mentored women entrepreneurs and moderated panels at a number of national accelerators, Startup Weekends and conferences such as The Lean Startup Conference, the Massachusetts Conference for Women, Women Empower Expo and Smart Cities Connect. Natasha is also the author of the popular whitepaper, "How To Close The Gender Gap In Startup Land By 2021." In her spare time, she writes short fiction and hangs out with her son, Shaun.

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