Swings, slides and smiles: Woodbury teen earns top Girl Scout award
A wood plank balanced over a pile of stones for a makeshift teeter-totter was one of few things children in San Nicolas, Honduras, had to play with the first time Woodbury High School senior Meghan Rice visited.
She and her mother traveled there in 2014 on a mission trip with Crossroads Church in Woodbury, which partnered with a Honduran church to help meet the surrounding communities' needs.
The community center the church sponsors feeds more than 60 children three days of the week. Some of the children, most of whom grow up in poverty, have little access to food other than the meals the center provides.
Rice hoped to offer them some distraction from the daily struggles they face.
"A lot of them have a rough home life," Rice said. "I wanted to provide them with something that would make their life better and make them feel comfortable, have fun and smile instead of thinking about what's going on at home."
This desire motivated Rice's "Swings, Slides and Smiles" project. She worked with Crossroads and Milk & Honey Missions, a Woodbury-based operation that sponsors mission trips to Honduras, to raise $2,000 in donations for a playground at the center.
The colorful structure features swings, a slide, a new teeter-totter and a metal awning that keeps the metal equipment from overheating on hot days.
The year-long effort involved dozens of hours of work collecting donations from the congregation and outreach about the mission. Rice also organized sessions with her school's Spanish class to translate English-language board games and flashcards, which they also donated to the center.
Swings, Slides and Smiles recently earned Rice a Girl Scout Gold Award.
One of the highest honors a Girl Scout can receive, Gold Awards recognize projects that culminate at least 80 hours of work over one to two years toward an initiative that makes both a local and global impact.
Less than 6 percent of Girl Scouts earn the award each year.
Natasha Brownlee, program coordinator for Girl Scouts of River Valley, said the chapter honored 56 girls from Wisconsin and Minnesota with the award. The details of Rice's project, Brownlee said, fit the goals for the award.
"She worked on her project to not only create the tangible slide itself, which was part of her project, but also worked on some other healthy living and community-building materials," Brownlee said. "She really hit all of those parts. Also, working with the communities ensures there's continued use."
For many of the children, Rice said this was the first playground they had seen and eagerly climbed on the equipment before construction wrapped up last summer.
"They were just so joyous," she said. "They shared and everyone took their turns going down the slide."
Kristi Myre, Crossroads mission coordinator, said the the playground represents more than a way to stave off boredom.
"It's not just a playground," Myre said. "It's a symbol the community takes pride in as a place kids can just be kids."
The project, Myre said, also made a local impact in their congregation.
Rice organized outreach to younger kids about how small gestures can make a big difference.
"It really connected the kids," Myre said. "Even $5 went to help other kids in Honduras. It was Meghan's dream, but she involved other people. Smaller kids in our church could be proud of it, too."
Gold Awards also require projects to be sustainable.
Rice helped establish an annual Honduras Awareness Month to raise money for additional needs.
She plans to return to Honduras this summer to help with a number of efforts including the construction of a garden, kitchen and library.
Rice said she encourages other Girl Scouts to pursue Gold Award projects, even if the responsibility seems intimidating.
"It's a lot of work and it's scary, but it definitely makes a lot of impact on you and your community around you," she said. "Not many girls get it, so I'd like to encourage them to encourage this goal, dream big and bless the lives of others around you."