Girl Scouts strike gold as mentors10/02/08

Oct. 2, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Bathed in afternoon sunlight, Williston Central School’s new mentoring space literally sparkled a week and a half ago. Decorated stepping-stones lay among a bed of freshly spread mulch in a developing mosaic. A tree waved in the breeze, shadowing a solitary bench.


    Courtesy photo
Girl Scouts (from left) Katie Milne, Ellie Beckett, Samantha Fontaine, Bethany Karstens and Mara Distler recently received their Gold Awards, the highest honor in scouting.

 This quiet space, located on the east side of the school, is meant for thought, reflection and, most importantly, mentoring. Created by five Williston Girl Scouts, this space and their commitment to mentoring students in Williston has earned the Scouts the prestigious Gold Award, the highest honor handed out by the Vermont Girl Scouts Council.

The scouts — Bethany Karstens, Samantha Fontaine, Ellie Beckett, Katie Milne and Mara Distler — have been friends since their kindergarten days as Brownies. Now, in their senior year at Champlain Valley Union High School, the Gold Award serves as the culmination of their years of hard work.

The scouts received the award at a ceremony at the Basin Harbor Club in Vergennes on Sunday, Sept. 28.

Milne said she never thought the group would actually win the award, but wanted to make a difference nonetheless.

“It really was a surprise,” Milne said.

Distler said only 3 to 4 percent of Girl Scouts actually achieve the award, with three other girls in the state doing so this year.

Besides creating the space, the scouts mentored Williston elementary students during the last school year.

Beckett said the original idea was to work with senior citizens, but the girls decided to reach out to Williston students.

“We thought it would be better because we could better relate to them,” Beckett said.

The five scouts were joined with five fourth grade girls from Allen Brook School who had trouble making friends. The scouts acted mostly as friends and helped the younger girls become more comfortable in social situations. Distler said it took a little while for the fourth graders to become comfortable around the scouts, but they soon built strong relationships.

The scouts and their new friends met many times, including at a sleepover event, a University of Vermont basketball game, to ice skate and to attend a “Beauty and the Beast” show at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.

Milne said the fourth graders became friends with each other, and found it easier to make friends with peers. She said she watched them transform from shy girls to more outgoing individuals.

“I got a lot out of watching them grow and seeing the input we had,” Milne said.

As they worked with their girls, the scouts came up with the idea to create the mentoring space at Williston Central to help with the school’s Connecting Youth mentoring program. Nancy Carlson, the Connecting Youth mentoring director for Williston, said she was impressed with the initiative the scouts took in creating their own mentoring program. She was even more pleased to hear they wanted to create space the Connecting Youth program could use.

“That’s a big commitment they undertook,” Carlson said. “They wanted a lasting impact and they’ve created a beautiful sanctuary.”

Milne said they designed and decorated the stepping stones with the fourth grade girls and hope the tradition can continue with other mentoring programs.

“Our hope is that each (mentoring) group makes a stone,” Beckett said.

“A mosaic, hopefully,” Distler added.

The space is truly a community space, the scouts said. The Williston-Richmond Rotary Club donated the bench, the Four Seasons Garden Center donated the tree and Guy’s Farm and Yard donated the mulch.

Carlson said the mentoring program at Williston Central, now in its 10th year, pairs middle school students with community tutors for one hour each week. Carlson said the space the scouts created is already getting full use by the program’s more than 50 mentoring pairs.

“I would thank them most of all for being such awesome ambassadors for mentoring through our school and community,” Carlson said.

The scouts said they’ll always remains friends from the experience they shared through Girl Scouts. From selling cookies to making crafts, they’ll always carry a strong bond.

“And we sold lots and lots of cookies,” Distler said with a laugh.