Omaha – Nineteen Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska members earned the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, the prestigious Gold Award. Gold Award Girl Scouts are high school activists who change the world through extraordinary leadership and passion by tackling local, national or global issues.
This year’s Spirit of Nebraska Gold Award Girl Scouts made meaningful, lasting change in childhood literacy, declining bee populations, suicide awareness, vaping risks and more.
“We are so proud to have 19 Girl Scouts earn their Gold Awards this year,” said Fran Marshall, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska. “Even during a pandemic, Gold Award Girl Scouts step up, select an issue that is important to them, and work diligently to overcome obstacles and accomplish a sustainable and impactful project in their communities.”
The 2021 Gold Award Girl Scouts are: Chloe Blumanthal of Alliance; Sydney Correll of Bellevue; Bailey Klanderud of Bennington; Hailey Baker of Blair; Bristyn Cummings of Chadron; Zoe Kraus of Crete; Kristen Rohrer of Edgar; Isabelle Claus of Elkhorn; Olivia Longmore of Gering; Elizabeth Caldwell of Glenwood, Iowa; Emma Bitterman and Genavieve Henry of Gretna; Rebecca Wulf of Hooper; Elise Benson of Lincoln; Laura Stehlik of Nebraska City; Bernice Hilker and Rebecca Liebsack of Omaha; Brynnleigh Weaver of Papillion; and Crystal Craft of Roca.
Using strategic thinking, collaboration, problem solving and time management, Gold Award Girl Scouts address pressing issues and become the future leaders the world needs.
According to a study by the Girl Scout Research Institute in 2021, 98% of Gold Award Girl Scouts said Girl Scouting had a positive impact on their lives. They attribute their commitment to community, development of essential life skills and success in life to Girl Scouts. Gold Award Girl Scouts are also more likely to have a positive self-image, hold positive values, and exhibit confidence and courage compared to non-alums.
At a young age, Girl Scouts develop leadership skills by identifying community issues, making improvements and earning the highest awards for their age groups.
In Nebraska, 195 girls earned their Bronze Award, the highest award for Girl Scouts in fourth and fifth grade. An additional 89 girls earned their Silver Award, the highest Girl Scout award for sixth- through eighth-graders.
2021 Gold Award Project Descriptions
Hailey Baker of Blair
After noticing that children were often using their parents’ phones during church, Baker decided to focus her project on youth literacy. To encourage families to read more together, Baker made a Little Free Library for her community and an updated library for her church’s youth. She also held a book drive and collected more than 800 books for the libraries.
Elise Benson of Lincoln
Upon discovering that many Lancaster Rehabilitation Center residents had few visitors, Benson created the Generations Connect program that encourages high school volunteers to visit and participate in fun activities with residents. She recruited 13 high school friends who were paired with residents. Visits boosted residents’ morale and improved the volunteers’ communication skills. During COVID-19, the volunteers wrote letters to their residents and held regular video call sessions.
Emma Bitterman of Gretna
During biology class, Bitterman learned about the drastic decline in global bee populations. Partnering with Lauritzen Gardens and the Nebraska State Arboretum, she designed and built a native bee pollinator garden at Lauritzen Gardens to sustainably address bee habitat loss. Bitterman created a brochure with facts and actionable tasks for visitors and a Girl Scout “Save the Bees” program that teaches girls how to act on this issue.
Chloe Blumanthal of Alliance
Blumanthal’s life was changed when she learned her uncle had taken his own life. After learning that one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders and that discrimination and lack of information keep people from getting treatment, Blumanthal was inspired to take action. She organized a mental health conference, developed a self-care kit for Girl Scouts and designed a booklet identifying mental health resources in the Nebraska panhandle, thanks to a grant from Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska.
Elizabeth Caldwell of Glenwood, Iowa
Caldwell tackled scientific research and created a way to provide fresh produce for people in need. She developed a way to maximize space for plant and animal growth using AquaBioPonics so local shelters and food banks can grow the produce they need with minimal resources. Caldwell also mentored other young women on how to gain the research experience needed to pursue medical careers.
Isabelle Claus of Elkhorn
When Claus’ great-grandmother moved to a nursing home, she was no longer able to continue gardening. Claus built three flower garden boxes for the nursing home in Mapleton, Iowa, giving the residents horticulture opportunities. She also made game tables for avid card players, providing something fun for residents to do with each other and visiting families.
Sydney Correll of Bellevue
After noticing Omaha-area theaters didn’t offer technical internships for high school students, Correll worked with The Rose Theater to start annual internships that provide backstage experience in a professional theater environment. High school juniors and seniors will get hands-on training in theater production components such as costume design, set design and construction, props, and lighting and sound.
Crystal Craft of Roca
Craft’s small church of 70 members had an urgent need to attract younger members. To mentor and inspire younger children, Craft began teaching Wednesday night church classes with her advisor. She also raised $6,000 to fund repairs. Freshly painted walls, updated playground equipment and trimmed trees brought new life to the church and instilled pride among the congregation. She also made a stained-glass art piece honoring the church’s 150th anniversary.
Bristyn Cummings of Chadron
Cummings used bocce ball to support Chadron Special Olympics athletes and connect her community with the organization. She scouted locations, created a proposal and built two bocce ball courts outside the Office of Human Development. The courts are open to Special Olympics athletes and the public. Cummings also is working with her high school physical education teacher to introduce bocce ball to students and build connections between the school and Special Olympic athletes.
Genavieve Henry of Gretna
Henry was moved by the lack of literary resources her brother had in his alternative curriculum classroom and wanted to do something about it. She recorded volunteers reading picture books and created audio books for the class, which serves children with moderate to severe disabilities. Students like her brother can now hear peer-read stories anytime. Henry also created storage shelves for the audio books and collected donated books for the classroom.
Bernice Hilker of Omaha
Although Picotte Elementary School provides babysitting services for PTO members who bring children to meetings, Hilker was disheartened by the lack of activities available for the students. After discovering broken crayons, dry markers and games with missing pieces, she made a learning cart full of educational activities and games, as well as instructions on childcare dos and don’ts for inexperienced teenage volunteers.
Bailey Klanderud of Bennington
To build stronger bonds between middle and high school students, Klanderud’s school started Life Groups comprised of 20 youth in grades sixth through 12. Klanderud realized some students had trouble leading their peers and set out to make the groups more successful. She created a curriculum for leading groups that includes ice breakers, games, conversation topics and prayers. It can also be used for after-school activities, team-building retreats and church groups.
Zoe Kraus of Crete
Habitat loss and climate change are two factors in the decreasing population of birds in Crete. With that knowledge, Kraus created a garden at the Crete Public Library using native plants to increase bird and insect populations, while beautifying the landscape. She also educated the community on the importance of native plants, which require less maintenance and attract more insects than other plants.
Rebecca Liebsack of Omaha
Liebsack wanted to educate children about the harmful effects of vaping. She created a fun patch program so Girl Scout Juniors and Cadettes can discover the dangers of vaping in an entertaining way. She included a word search, informational websites and activities that allow girls to learn with their troop and friends. The program includes hands-on activities that participants engaged and helps them retain information.
Olivia Longmore of Gering
Longmore wanted to increase awareness of and participation in foreign exchange opportunities for high school students in her area. To encourage students to get involved, Longmore provided handouts and detailed information about where to find exchange programs, how to apply and what traits make a successful exchange student applicant. She also created videos to engage the students. Teachers used her curriculum and videos, and several students told her they would consider applying.
Kristen Rohrer of Edgar
Over three years, Rohrer fundraised and worked with the Edgar City Council to install eight pieces of musical park equipment in Bell Tower Park. She wanted to enhance the park and engage visitors with music and sculptures. Combining the two created park equipment that allows visitors to play music and enjoy a full sensory experience. The perfectly tuned sound sculptures are multigenerational and handicap accessible.
Laura Stehlik of Nebraska City
Stehlik wanted girls to integrate healthy lifestyle choices into their regular activities. Inspired by changes during COVID-19, she created a virtual Brownie Day at Camp PowerPoint program. Girls who complete the program can incorporate food balance into their lives, learn to cook with math conversions, become self-aware, sing, do fun activities and connect with other Girl Scouts via Zoom. The program can also be used by Girl Scout leaders for in-person camp outings.
Brynnleigh Weaver of Papillion
Weaver’s project addressed the fact that girls in fifth to seventh grades tend to stray from Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. To get more children interested in learning STEM concepts, Weaver developed interactive, hands-on kits. Students can discover new ideas through playing, without feeling like they are being forced to learn. The kits motivate youth to learn STEM theories and reach educational outcomes while having fun.
Rebecca Wulf of Hooper
Concerned about lagging agriculture literacy, Wulf worked with the Logan View FFA Chapter to plan an ag education event at her school to teach students where their food comes from. She aligned her activities and lessons with state education standards so her event could be considered class instruction time. She introduced elementary students to dairy production, bee production, alternative crops, crops and livestock, popcorn, and farm safety.