Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois congratulates Mia Torres from O’Fallon for becoming a Gold Award Girl Scout, a designation she earned by building a sensory garden at a local group home for adults with developmental disabilities. She hoped to help enrich residents’ lives, as well as provide organic food for them to eat. To help further her goal of increased community wellness, she also delivered a workshop on mental health to area Girl Scouts.
The Gold Award is the mark of the truly remarkable—earned by a high school Girl Scout who works to address an issue she’s passionate about in a way that produces meaningful and lasting change. Whether it’s on a local, national, or global level, Gold Award Girl Scouts provide innovative solutions to significant challenges.
“I have a passion for gardening and I wanted to share those experiences with those that do not normally have access to a garden,” Mia said. “My aunt lives in a group home and she enjoys gardening but didn’t have access to a handicapped accessible environment, so I decided to add this joyful component to the house.”
Mia first met with the administrators at her aunt’s residential care center to make a plan. Next, she shared several meals with fresh produce and herbs for the residents to sample, to get a feel for the kinds of foods they would want to grow. She also began researching wheelchair accessible garden designs. Once the strategy was in place, she got to work. After securing donations from several local businesses, she collaborated with a family friend to build two large raised garden beds.
After installing and filling the gardens in the patio area of the group home, Mia worked with volunteers and residents to start planting. Next she assembled a volunteer team to regularly water and weed the garden throughout the summer. Once the first harvest was over, she led the residents in painting birdhouses, which she hung so they could watch activity in their garden all year long. To prepare for the next season, she took a class on raised bed gardening, then started planning the next year’s activities, which followed the same planting, maintaining and harvesting schedule with volunteers and residents. She also helped residents feel more connected to their garden and the foods they enjoyed. In all, the garden produced included 20 different varieties of organic produce, 10 different flowers and 5 different herbs.
As one final piece to her project, Mia led a workshop on mental health awareness to 60 Girl Scouts that included learning sessions about the brain, collaborative skits about mental wellness, and sharing information about activities that can enhance mental wellness such as gardening and healthy cooking. She even had a doctor come to help answer girls questions girls had about mental health.
“The most successful aspect of my project was getting people involved in healthy living,” she said. “I hope that my involvement in the residents’ lives will allow them to work toward better eating and healthier activities outdoors. And I hope by getting girls to understand how common mental illness is it may allow them to be understanding as they grow through life.”
Gold Award Girl Scouts don’t just change the world for the better, they change it for good. The Gold Award is earned by girls in grades 9–12 who demonstrate extraordinary leadership in developing sustainable solutions to local, national, and global challenges. Since the highest award was established in 1916, Girl Scouts have answered the call to drive lasting, impactful change. The Gold Award is the mark of the truly remarkable. Along with making a measurable impact on those in her community, Mia also gained self-assurance in her own ability to make a difference.
"I became more confident in my problem solving abilities even when faced with adversity or obstacles,” she said. “Because of the opportunities my Gold Award Girl Scout project has given me, I might want to make it a career out of teaching.”
Mia is the daughter of Jesse and Lynn Torres. She is a member of the Class of 2020 at O’Fallon Township High School and plans to attend Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) to pursue a future career in education.