BRANDON — For three young women who grew up in the Brandon area, Girl Scouts was much more than a weekly social gathering.
The lessons learned, such as giving back to their community, provided a guidepost for their lives.
Stephanie Dye, Sarah Sullivan and Margaret Schmidt transferred those lessons into community service projects that earned them the highest honor in Girl Scouts, the Gold Award. Only 5,500 girls in the United States receive the award annually.
The awards were presented at the annual Girl Scouts of West Central Florida Gold Award Reception at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Sabal Park earlier this summer.
The trio was among 32 Scouts from west-central Florida to receive the honor this year.
The Gold Award is based on knowledge, leadership and networking skills they developed through the years that will benefit their community.
This includes examining their community needs and connecting with local businesses, organizations and neighbors.
Dye, a Newsome High graduate and freshman at University of South Florida, created a project to promote organ transplants after she and her father, Tom Dye, underwent successful heart transplants at Tampa General Hospital.
A Girl Scout for 13 years, Dye sent instructions with quilting squares to heart transplant recipients from Tampa General. She asked them to sew a design on the square depicting how they felt about receiving their new heart.
She then stitched 25 squares into a quilt and presented it to Dr. Mark Weston, medical director of the heart transplant program at Tampa General.
"I wanted to create a visual thank you in the unit to Dr. Weston and his staff from everyone they helped," Dye said.
Dye also spoke to Girl Scout troops, the Quilt Guild and hospitals about the importance of organ and tissue donation. She also started Get Carded at USF, a program designed to inform students about organ and tissue donation.
She also is a spokeswoman for LifeLink Foundation, a nonprofit Florida service organization dedicated to increasing organ and tissue donations. She and her father will be featured in next year's Faces of Transplantation LifeLink calendar.
Dye, 19, grew up in Brandon and now lives in Tampa..
Sullivan, a 19-year-old sophomore sociology major at Boston University, came up with the Winthrop Goes Green recycling program for the Winthrop Town Centre in Riverview that was developed by her parents, John and Kay Sullivan.
The plan included initiatives for recycling materials left over from construction such as carpet, paper, plastics and metal.
She also designed a community bike-sharing program to discourage use of cars, as well as installation of automatic light switches in new buildings.
Winthrop is a 150-acre community at Bloomingdale Avenue and Providence Road that includes commercial and residential buildings geared to pedestrians.
"A lot of what I did involved research and coming up with a time line for the projects," said Sullivan, who lives in Brandon and graduated from Blake High.
A Girl Scout for 13 years, Sullivan said the program has influenced and helped her in countless ways.
"Girl Scouts helps in your overall development by seeing women who encouraged and empowered you to get involved and make a difference," she said. "It's an environment and a forum to interact that was really positive."
Schmidt's project had a global dimension — developing a library for a clinic in the tiny village of La Victoria in the Dominican Republic in June 2007.
For more than 20 years, Nativity Catholic Church has sponsored mission projects in La Victoria. Schmidt, a member of the church youth group, learned before the trip the mission needed children's Spanish books for its reading center.
She placed an ad in the church bulletin to collect money, books and materials for the project and gathered 170 books to take to La Victoria.
Once there, Schmidt and her fellow youth group members made shelves and created the reading center for the children with a rug, pillows and a chair.
"I wanted to make a whole library, but when I saw how expensive that would be, I thought a reading room for the kids would be a good start," said Schmidt, who lives in Valrico and will attend Hillsborough Community College this fall.
Schmidt, 18, returned to La Victoria in the spring and added more books to the reading area.
"It's an ongoing thing I plan to continue to develop into a library," she said. "This was cool because I got other people involved."
Like Dye and Sullivan, Schmidt has been a longtime Girl Scout.
A Durant High graduate, Schmidt credits Girl Scouts for giving her the confidence to get involved in school activities such as track, National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America and to play violin in the orchestra.