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When young helps old, payoff is gold

When East Ridge High School student Erin Kenney joined Girl Scouts in first grade, she didn't have the slightest idea where it would take her.

"It was just really nice to meet a lot of different people from different schools," said Kenney, who just wrapped up her junior year of high school. "Through Girl Scouts definitely the one thing I came away with was that I can do a lot more than I think I can."

Kenney, of Woodbury, received her Gold Award, the highest award for a Girl Scout, during a ceremony on June 2 at the Ted Mann Theater at the University of Minnesota.

In order to earn the award, a Girl Scout must identify and complete a service project in the community that is unique, sustainable and addresses a community need beyond girl scouting.

The project requires creativity, development of leadership skills, as well as at least 80 hours of work.

"I didn't really start thinking about the Gold Award until last summer when I was looking for something to do," Kenney said. "It's not anything I ever pictured myself doing or ever planned on."

Kenney's Gold Award project included two components - creating photobooks for Oak Meadows Senior Living in Oakdale and working with seniors and high school students to donate school supplies and books to Emma's Place family housing center.

Capturing the moment

It was last summer when the director of community relations for Oak Meadows attended one of Kenney's Girl Scout meetings asking if any of the girls were interested in doing their Gold Award project at the senior center.

Kenney jumped at the opportunity.

For the project, Kenney took nearly 500 photos at all of the events held at Oak Meadows.

Kenney then decided to not only display the photos during an art show at the center, she also decided to put the photos together into a photobook to be handed out to incoming residents.

"The purpose of the book is just to show what they do everyday," Kenney said. "I wanted to show what Oak Meadows is like because it's not a nursing home, it's not a hospital, it's very different. It's a home to everyone and that's what I really wanted to capture."

Keeney used Shutterfly to assemble the photobook.

"The hardest part was trying to figure out what photos I didn't want to put into the book because they're all so cute," she said.

The books also include brief descriptions of each event and quotes from seniors about what Oak Meadows means to them.

"I just sprinkled them throughout the book because they are so precious," Kenney said. "I just couldn't sum (Oak Meadows) up in words, so I used their words."

Kenney said she hopes the photobooks help residents with their transition to Oak Meadows.

"Based on my experiences with my family and my grandparents, this is a really big transition for them," she said. "They're giving up their independence and have a lot of transitions, so I wanted to ease a little bit of that worry."

Bridging generations

The second part of Kenney's project, which addressed the leadership piece, brought both the residents of Oak Meadows and East Ridge National Honor Society students together for a service project.

The two groups worked together to put together 60 school supply care packages to donate to children at Emma's Place, a family housing center in Maplewood.

"The whole theme of the service project was that we wanted seniors and teenagers to work together," Kenney said. "A lot of teens are a little scared to approach seniors or work with them, so they're not two groups that would normally interact. However, I saw so many parallels between seniors and teenagers - they are just like us."

In total, Kenney said she spent close to 120 hours on the two projects.

Kenney said receiving her Gold Award has made her very proud, but the highlight for her was being able to work with the residents at Oak Meadows.

"I made so many friends there and learned so much about life in general," she said. "They had so many stories to tell me."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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