It's the top-notch, most prestigious award many teenagers in Girl Scouts dream of earning. The dime-size pin that now sparkles on four local girls' khaki vests is the Gold Award.
It requires many hours of planning and implementing a challenging, large-scale project that is innovative, engages others and has a lasting impact on the community with an emphasis on sustainability.
One West High School student and three Wasco High School students now join the ranks of those who've earned the Gold Award title that dates back to 1916.
"The feeling of receiving this award is undescribable and amazing," said 18-year-old Cassidee Shepherd, a West High School student who has been in the Girl Scouts for 12 years.
Shepherd earned the Gold Award for her Project Port Pillow, where she addressed an issue cancer patients face when they have a port surgically installed to receive cancer treatment. Since a seatbelt goes right over the port, it causes a lot of discomfort, so she made 5-by-5-inch pillows to relieve the pain.
"Cancer has affected my life so much that I just wanted to help someone going through that battle and relieve their pain a little," Shepherd said.
Shepherd's best friend had cancer when she was 9 years old and her mom's three best friends have had breast cancer. The discomfort of seatbelts was a complaint among them.
The pillows come in different textures, colors and patterns, from summery colorful flip-flop designs to musical notes. The pillows have a velcro strap to secure around the seatbelt and come with a motivational message from Shepherd.
Each pillow only takes about 5 minutes to make; Shepherd has made about 220 and plans on sewing 100 more for Relay for Life this week.
With similar ideas of giving back to the community, 19-year-old Elisabeth Newman, a Wasco High graduate who has been in the Girl Scouts for 12 years, decided to do something related to recycling, one of her passions.
Newman's project, Reduce, Reuse, Reinvent, addressed the issue of wastefulness and her hope was to inspire others to think of new ways of using recycled materials.
"I made different size purses, wallets and pencil cases from Capri Sun juice drinks," Newman said in a phone interview from her dorm at California State University, Sacramento.
Having been a big Capri Sun drinker all her life, Newman started looking at Youtube videos to get inspiration on how to make unique items from recycled material. After sewing a couple of wallets, she decided to go for bigger purses and pencil cases.
She has made 30 items total and each takes about an hour to complete. Each item sports different patterns and colors.
"I was super duper excited when I got the news that I had won," Newman said. "We all have an opportunity to invent something but only a few get the award so it's a personal accomplishment for me."
Maggie Blanchard, 19, the second Wasco High recipient who now attends UC San Diego, was relieved when she was notified of the award.
"It felt really good because at the time, I was juggling my full-time job as a lifeguard and trying to get everything done for the project," she said.
Blanchard's project, Let's Be Safe Around Water, addressed the issue of childhood drowning and taught eight children, ages 5 to 11, how to be safe around water.
"Being a lifetime swimmer, I hadn't realized how little kids know about water safety, like why it's not safe to run on the side of the pool," Blanchard said.
The Gold Award is only open to girls in high school and all girls have to complete a seven-step project that details their journey that is then presented to a Girl Scouts committee. There is no time limit, since the difficulty of each project can vary.
"We do interviews with each girl and we listen and see what their project is about and how it has basically benefited the community," said Eloise Golden, Gold Award advisory committee chairwoman. "These winners really did a great job and I know that a lot of them have gained so much self-confidence and leadership skills."
The other local Girl Scout Gold Award winner is Erica Rosales of Wasco High, whose project, Bike Safety Roadeo, taught children to ride their bikes safely.