Video Helps Curriculum around Wonder, and Treating Kids with Disabilities with Kindness

Sara Pollak, with her Gold Award mentor, Marilyn Mitchell

Sara Pollak, a member of Girl Scout Troop 50153 in Wilton, has earned her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouting. Pollak, a 2017 graduate of Wilton High School, is now a freshman at Endicott College in Beverly MA and is studying event planning and management.

For her Gold Award Project, Pollak filmed and produced a video for the myFace organization in New York City. The video, “Kindness Counts,” is part of a nationwide curriculum relating to R.J. Palacio’s first novel, Wonder, a story about a ten-year-old boy who has a rare physical deformity and has difficulty making friends when entering public school after being homeschooled. This book is frequently used as part of middle school and high school curriculums across the US and the movie is being released in November 2017.

Pollak’s video addresses treating people with cranial-facial and other disabilities with kindness. It incorporated teens and adults with disabilities telling their personal stories of acts of kindness which made a positive difference in their lives. The intended impact is to spread the message of kindness and to connect with kids and teachers so they better understand the day to day challenges faced by people with disabilities. Pollak hopes that when educators and students view the video, it will educate through real life stories and will possibly broaden perspectives and inspire students to practice the kindness and respect that is deserved.

The project, which took over 100 hours to make, including coordination with the myFace organization’s Teen Support group to locate interviewees ranging in age from 6 through adult, filming interviews, sequencing a storyline, and editing the final piece.

Pollak’s service to teens with disabilities doesn’t stop with her Gold Award project. She co-founded Cowabunga Surf Retreat, and planned, fundraised, and executed the one week, sleep away surf camp for teens that have craniofacial or other types of disabilities for two consecutive summers.

The retreat grew out of her own personal experience being treated with kindness and the impact it had on her own positive outlook. Pollak has Apert Syndrome, a craniofacial and outer limb anomaly, and she recounts an earlier act of support and kindness demonstrated toward her during a challenging period of self-doubt right before entering high school. She was taking a surf lesson and her feet deformities made getting up on the board a challenge during her first surf lesson with instructor Cody Leutgens, owner of Surf City Surf School in Surf City, NC. During that one-hour lesson Pollak couldn’t initially get up on the board. Leutgens’ support and belief in Pollak led him to follow up and graciously offer to take her out surfing again the next day–when she succeeded and got her first ride into shore. Pollak describes this as a life changing kind act that not only saved her from her own fear, but fueled the formation of the retreat to help other teens realize their power, something made possible with the help of her parents, retreat co-founder Donna Leutgens, and many other family members and volunteers.

At Wilton High School, Pollak was a member of the Organic Garden Club and Top Inclusion Models, and a recipient of numerous service and recognition awards. She is active with the myFace organization, has written blogs of her story, was featured in an anti-bullying video for National Disability Awareness Month and sat on a panel of various-aged cranial facial patients to discuss life transformations after high school.

At Endicott College, Pollak is an active member of the American Hotel and Lodging Association and LIGHThouse Leadership Society, whose mission is to provide the campus with an annual retreat designed to have students aspire to be the best person that they can be, and to inspire others to do the same.

She is grateful to Dina Zuckerberg, director of myFace, for her guidance throughout her project, and to Corey Sabia, a fellow member of the WHS Class of ’17, for editing assistance.

GSUSA builds girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.

Addressing the Declining Monarch Butterfly Population–Dilshad Dinshaw Gold Award

Wilton High School junior Dilshad Dinshaw also recently completed her Girl Scout Gold Award, with a project addressing the issue of declining monarch butterfly populations over the past 20 years. Their numbers have declined by about 90%, from 1 billion to only 57 million.

The best way to save this charismatic species is by planting milkweed, the only plant that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on, and the only food source for the monarch caterpillar. Due to deforestation and the widespread use of herbicides, monarch butterflies have lost much of their natural habitat and their host milkweed plant.

Over the past year Dinshaw planted and distributed over 140 milkweed plants in our community working with the Wilton Garden Club, Woodcock Nature Center, and local preschools. She contributed milkweed saplings to the Pollinator Pathway in Wilton and planted some along the Norwalk River Valley Trail. She also gave presentations to over 100 people, including Girl Scout Troops, preschools, and summer camps in order to educate and inspire the younger generation on this important issue.

Dinshaw is being considered for National Young Women of Distinction Designation by Girl Scouts USA.

In her spare time, she dances and plays piano and violin. In the future she looks forward to studying international relations.

Dilshad Dinshaw at the Norwalk River Valley Trail after planting and watering common milkweed (Asclepius syriaca)

Bonfire Tradition Brings Scouts Together

In September, approximately 120 Wilton Girl Scouts gathered at Merwin Meadows to kick off a new year of Scouting at a Bonfire and Celebration of Founder Juliette Gordon Low event hosted by Cadette Troop 50471.

New Daisies and Brownies learned Girl Scout traditions such as SWAPs and campfire songs and reciting the Girl Scout Promise and Law. The afternoon culimated in the Scouts gathering around a roaring bonfire to sing Make New Friends and share a Friendship Circle.

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