Making a positive change in the world that has a noticeable impact is a hard thing to accomplish. But four young people working on their Girl Scout Silver Award have done just that here in Wilton — and they’re not even out of middle school yet.
Charlotte Halliwell, Annabelle Shultz, Reagan Hurley and McKenna Rooney are just finishing up their seventh-grade year at Middlebrook Middle School. They have taken on a project to earn their Silver Award that many residents can see around town already.
The four are raising awareness for Pride in Wilton, a project that was sparked one year ago.
“I noticed that compared to other towns Wilton had barely any Pride decorations. Some stores had a little something in the window, but there wasn’t anything to really say ‘Wow’ about. And then you had a town like Ridgefield, which had a huge celebration and there were decorations everywhere you looked. So I thought it would be a good idea for us as a town to start recognizing and decorating and celebrating a lot more, so we can actually appreciate those in the community,” Charlotte explained.
They’ve spent several days after school and on weekends visiting businesses in Wilton Center and other areas of town, explaining their project and asking the business owners if they’d be willing to participate.
The first step was to ask businesses to display Pride flag decals in visible locations, including windows, doors or registers. Phase two included visiting many of those same businesses to ask if they’d consider allowing the scouts to decorate the store or restaurant window to represent Pride. They’ve had a booth at the Wilton Farmers’ Market to hand out ribbons, stickers, pins and more, and they are organizing and hosting an event on Thursday afternoon, June 30 at Trackside Teen Center (15 Station Rd.) from 4-6 p.m.
Walking into stores to make the request was daunting at first, but Annabelle said they’ve all grown more confident.
“When you first start doing it, it can be nervewracking, you don’t know how they’re gonna respond to it. But the more we’ve been doing it, the more it’s become less awkward,” she said.
The Troop has been together for the last seven years and is still 16 members strong. Achieving a Silver Award is meant to be a challenge that requires a scout to set project goals, plan and execute the project over the course of 50 hours of work. They can be guided by the adult troop leader but the scout needs to be the primary driver of the effort. What’s more, the Silver Award project is something that needs to be sustainable — it can’t be a one-off effort. In this case, the foursome hopes the Pride displays will become an annual event for Wilton businesses with more signing on every year — and that acceptance, awareness and celebration of Pride will grow in Wilton.
“If you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community and you see Wilton recognizing it, it makes you feel good because you know that you’re supported in this town. Especially last year, it took really long to get something to happen. I think it’s important just to show that Wilton supports it,” Reagan said.
“People go in stores all the time and if they see a bunch of stores supporting it they’ll think this nation probably should support it too. And maybe if they didn’t even know about it, they could see it in the stores [and wonder], ‘What is this for?’ They’ll look into it and see about Pride month and Pride in general,” Annabelle explained.
As the four walk from store to store around Wilton Center, they’re accompanied by troop leader Emma Halliwell, Charlotte’s mom. She’s there for guidance and moral support, but the entire effort rests on the scouts’ shoulders. They need to walk in, find the right person to speak with, explain what they’re hoping to do with the business — in this case, ask about decorating a storefront window — and make a follow-up plan, either by getting a business to sign on or collecting contact information to follow-up.
“Some stores are very supportive, like Rise Doughnuts. They were like, ‘Let’s totally do it.’ Other stores either seem dismissive or they’re a little confused. But most stores are like, ‘Just put up something in the front,’ McKenna noted.
“Just the fact they took in the decals in their windows was a huge part of it, that they actually wanted to support it. Just that was a big success for us,” Charlotte said, especially since there’s been little acknowledgement for Pride in Wilton in the past. “So to build onto it is even better,” she added.
So far, they’ve received only one terse, “No, thanks.” On the day a reporter joined their walk around Wilton Center, they got yesses from Village Market, Open House, Isabella Salon, and more.
Wilton Pizza manager Lisa Hope was one of the more receptive contacts on the scouts’ route. Not only did she agree to have the four arrange to decorate the restaurant’s door but she offered them a pizza on the house, a welcome reward after two hours of canvassing Wilton Center.
“I stand behind it. I believe it. When you believe in something, it’s not a matter of support, it’s your beliefs. And today the way the world is, let’s just make it a better place. It’s all different colors, right? I don’t care what color you are. I just care that you come, you like my pizza, I’ll give you good pizza. I’m not going to tell you no, because you’re blue or you’re pink or you’re yellow — it doesn’t matter. I believe in it is why I want them, with very open arms, to come and do this,” Hope explained.
She’s also a big fan of the philosophy that scouting organizations teach to troop members about hard work, responsibility and self-reliance. “Young people today have to learn that it’s not about the phone. It’s not about mom took care of everything, dad paid the bills.”
The four hope that eventually the town of Wilton will officially recognize Pride as other surrounding towns have done, symbolically raising a Pride flag at Town Hall.
“If we do that, if people just see it in June, it gives people a sense of security. So they can actually be open about [being LGBTQ+],” Charlotte said.