Madeline Werner of Syracuse among the award winners

Gold Award Girl Scouts take action to make lasting change in their communities

Every year, an elite group of inspiring future leaders are honored with the Girl Scout Gold Award, the most prestigious award in the world for girls, and the most difficult to earn. This year, 20 Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska members earned their Gold Award.

The Gold Award is the mark of the truly remarkable—earned by a high school Girl Scout who demonstrates extraordinary leadership in developing meaningful and lasting solutions to local, national and global challenges. Spirit of Nebraska’s Gold Award Girl Scouts tackled issues such as teen sexual assault, poverty, literacy, medical needs, community beautification and the shortage of women working in technology fields.

"Each year we celebrate the Girl Scouts in our council who complete ‘take action projects’ and earn their Gold Awards. This year we have 20 amazing Gold Award Girl Scouts to recognize," said Fran Marshall, Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska. “Each Gold Award Girl Scout delivers on her promise to make the world a better place by making a sustainable difference in her community. We are so proud of the girls who have achieved the highest award in Girl Scouts. We know they will go on to continue making a difference in our world.”

This year’s Gold Award Girls Scouts are Ellie Michaels of Bellevue; Karli Workman of Blair; Alora Nowlin of Council Bluffs, Iowa; Emily Binder and Hayley Long of Crete; Johanna Epp and Kate Lembree of Elkhorn; Kylie Shurz of Fremont; Kaitlyn Correll of Gretna; Madison Elliott of Imperial; Tessa Brazda and Maysaa Khalaf of Lincoln; Cheyanne Ellis of Minden; Madelynn Carbaugh, Abbey Dyer, Sidney Jacobs and Caitlyn Talkington of Omaha; Michaela Rotert of Potter; Madeline Werner of Syracuse; and Grace Steinmeyer of Wisner.

The benefits to these extraordinary young women—and, by extension, the world—are substantial. Research from the Girl Scout Research Institute finds that Gold Award Girl Scouts display more positive life outcomes than other young women, including those that pertain to sense of self, life satisfaction, leadership, life success, community service and civic engagement.

The desire to make tangible change begins early in Girl Scouting—leading to prestigious honors for girls as early as fourth grade. Younger girls who identify and address a pressing community need can earn the Bronze or Silver Award, gaining skills in leadership, project planning, time management and budgeting.

In Nebraska this year, 269 girls earned their Bronze Award, the highest award for Girl Scouts in fourth and fifth grade. Another 142 earned the Silver Award, the highest award for Girl Scouts in sixth through eighth grade.

2019 Gold Award Project Descriptions

Emily Binder of Crete

Working with the director of the Benne Memorial Museum, Binder created and led a team of students in researching World War I and the effects it had on her community. She then created a permanent museum exhibit illustrating the war’s impact on her town and honoring local veterans.

Tessa Brazda of Lincoln

When Brazda learned that foreign exchange students experienced isolation at school, homework challenges, homesickness and a lack of familiarity with the Lincoln area, she founded a Student Ambassador Program. The mentoring program pairs exchange students with American students at Lincoln Lutheran High School and provides welcome packets with information about Lincoln.

Madelynn Carbaugh of Omaha

Carbaugh partnered with the Women’s Center for Advancement to start the only Omaha-area support group for teen survivors of sexual assault and dating violence. She raised awareness about the support group and about teen dating violence through social media, fliers, television interviews, and by asking Gov. Pete Ricketts to declare February 2019 as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.

Kaitlyn Correll of Gretna

For her project, Correll teamed up with ATA Martial Arts to host a self-defense class at her high school. She created a video for her church to use to teach future self-defense classes and worked with her school’s guidance counselor to ensure self-defense and safety discussions are incorporated into the school’s curriculum.

Abbey Dyer of Omaha

With the help of a local artist, Dyer overhauled a room at the Heartland Hope Mission food pantry to give children a safe place to learn and play while their families wait to receive assistance, sometimes for hours. The room was painted and stocked with toys, books, a television and a computer. She organized several fundraisers, including a silent auction that will be continued annually.

Madison Elliott of Imperial

When Elliott learned her local fair board was seeking ways to beautify the Chase County Fairgrounds, she created an archway and sign to improve the appearance of the west entrance. Madison worked with a local welder, a farrier and volunteers to construct the sign that uses donated horseshoes to spell out “Chase Co Fair & Expo.”

Cheyanne Ellis of Minden

To raise awareness of and help children with autism spectrum disorder, Ellis raised money and worked with her Girl Scout troop to create 20 sensory boards and 12 sensory bottles for the K-3 Life Skills Class at her local elementary school. She also placed advertisements in her local newspaper and Chamber of Commerce newsletter to educate Minden residents about autism spectrum disorder.

Johanna Epp of Elkhorn

Epp did extensive research and partnered with First National Technology Solutions to address the shortage of women working in technology fields. Together, they created an educational event for young women, ages 14 to 21, to explore technology careers and hear from women thriving in these fields. She created a detailed how-to guide, so the event can continue.

Sidney Jacobs of Omaha

After Omaha’s Father Flanagan Lake was created, Jacobs realized there was little shade for visitors. She wanted to plant trees and educate park guests, so she decided to create an arboretum. Jacobs obtained planting permission from the city and worked with the National Arboretum Society to learn how to build tree identification signs.

Maysaa Khalaf of Lincoln

To honor those from her homeland of Iraq who have died in the United States, Khalaf partnered with the United Yezidi Community of America to beautify a Yazidi cemetery in Malcolm. She worked with the Arbor Day Foundation, the Nebraska Forest Service and the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum to secure donations of more than 400 trees, which she and 60 volunteers planted.

Kate Lembree of Elkhorn

Through research, Lembree discovered that children can drop as many as two grade levels in literacy skills when they don’t read during the summer. She partnered with Womenade of Elkhorn to create the Busy Bee Reading Club, collected more than 2,000 books and invited at-risk students to a summer book fair.

Hayley Long of Crete

While volunteering at the Lincoln People’s City Mission, Long noticed the children had few toys to play with and wondered what other items the children needed. She learned that hygiene products, sippy cups and bedding were some things the families lacked. Long created an annual spring donation drive and recruited groups to donate specific items monthly, ensuring consistent contributions.

Ellie Michaels of Bellevue

Inspired by her brother, who is a cancer survivor, Michaels assembled Be Positive Boxes for cancer patients at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. Donations from fundraisers and employees at several optical companies allowed Michaels and her Girl Scout troop to purchase hygiene supplies, toys, puzzles and coloring books. She delivered over 50 boxes to the hospital.

Alora Nowlin of Council Bluffs, Iowa

Nowlin implemented a cadet teaching program in her school's Spanish 1 and 2 classes. Students without an on-site teacher were paired with a Spanish-speaking tutor who shared information about Spanish-speaking cultures. Cadet teachers gained leadership skills, while students were able to experience the best part of learning a new language: discovering new cultures.

Michaela Rotert of Potter

For her project, Rotert created a six-week youth Summer Reading Program at the Potter Public Library to encourage children to read and use the library all summer. Children checked out books, played games based on books they read and did STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities that Rotert developed with the library staff.

Kylie Shurz of Fremont

After learning about the health benefits of crocheted octopus toys for premature babies, Shurz brought this beneficial project to her community. She taught members of her church and Girl Scout troop how to crochet the cuddly toys that soothe babies, reminding them of their umbilical cords. Shurz and her team made an octopus toy for each newborn baby at Methodist Fremont Health.

Grace Steinmeyer of Wisner

After twin tornados hit Pilger on June 16, 2014, Steinmeyer knew her Gold Award project would focus on helping the people of the decimated town. She led a team of volunteers—including city council members, an excavating company, her church group and her Girl Scout troop—in earning money, purchasing services and materials, and building a serenity rock garden in Pilger Park.

Caitlyn Talkington of Omaha

Working with the YES Omaha Maternity Home, Talkington created a pilot program to raise awareness of a 30-million-word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families and to teach parents how to fill in the gap for their young children. She then expanded her curriculum to two other groups that serve at-risk families: the Bethlehem House and the Child Saving Institute.

Madeline Werner of Syracuse

Werner created a brochure and video to educate people about the prevention and treatment of tick-borne illnesses. Her materials were distributed to Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska’s service centers and camps, child care centers, senior centers, churches, youth organizations, the Syracuse Parks and Recreation Department, and the Southeast Nebraska Health Department to teach people how to take precautions and avoid illness.

Karli Workman of Blair

Workman used her Gold Award project as an opportunity to start a recycling program at her church and to start or improve recycling programs at other churches in her community. She worked with local churches to teach parishioners about living a more sustainable lifestyle and taught youth how to maintain the recycling bins and keep the program going.