OLDSMAR — Giving back comes naturally for Carrollwood Day School senior Bailey Allebach and Gaither High School graduate Brianna Cesaroni.
They were among 36 recipients of the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, which was presented Saturday at the Nielsen Center.
As part of the Gold Award program, the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida, which comprises Hillsborough, Pasco, Citrus, Hernando, Marion, Pinellas and Polk counties, recognized sustainable and measurable service projects. They focused on community issues and required at least 80 hours of planning and implementation.
Allebach, an Odessa resident, entitled her project "In Support of TNVR,'' a cause she encountered while volunteering for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. She advocated for TNVR — Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return, a humane option to reduce the feral cat overpopulation — by developing an informative blog and video, while distributing flyers and attending outreach events.
Cesaroni, who will attend the University of South Florida in the fall, created "Claywell's Outdoor Classroom.'' At Claywell Elementary School, where she once attended, Cesaroni helped to establish an outdoor classroom setting so students might be inspired by get more exercise and Vitamin D.
The Gold Award, available to high school-age students, is conferred to fewer than 6 percent of Girl Scouts annually. Approximately one million Girl Scouts nationwide have earned the Gold Award since its 1916 inception.
"It's my favorite day in Girl Scouting,'' said Jessica Muroff, chief executive officer of the GSWCF. "What these young ladies have done shows so much creativity, vision and leadership. It's inspirational.''
The projects ran the gamut of causes, involving children, the elderly, the homeless, domestic violence, teenage mental health, literacy and the arts.
Allebach came across her project almost by accident while volunteering at the Humane Society. She helped the TNVR manager and learned more about the process.
"I fell in love with the program,'' Allebach said. "The only other way the shelters were trying to manage this was by euthanizing the feral cats.
"Through TNVR, they have a good life outside. They live a healthy life. What works best is to trap and neuter them. Then they can't create more kittens. And it's a more humane way to do this.''
Allebach said she was drawn to her project because "the TNVR program goes under the radar and I thought I could help by learning more about it.''
In turn, she learned more about herself.
"Being part of the Gold Award allowed me to be part of a cause I'm really passionate about and that helped me grow as a person,'' Allebach said. "I gained connections within the community, met a lot of people and helped to spread this cause.
"I'm normally kind of shy. But having to talk to people, putting myself out there, working on this cause, it brought me out of my shell.''
Meanwhile, Cesaroni said she searched for a health-related project because she's interested in becoming a doctor.
"As time has passed, less and less kids are playing outside,'' Cesaroni said. "They don't even go outside much. So I got the idea for an outdoor classroom.
"I talked to the people at Claywell and they loved it. I recruited some Boy Scouts from my brother's troop and they helped me build the area.''
It includes four picnic tables, all stained to endure the outdoor weather. A tarpaulin was laid down and the area was mulched, so weeding and mowing wouldn't be needed.
"It should last for a while,'' said Cesaroni, who added the area will be re-mulched every year through donations from the fifth-grade classes. "I like that it's sustainable and can help inspire classes every year.
"I'm relieved that I got to do something like this. I love the Girl Scouts and I love helping the community. I wasn't in this to receive the Gold Award. My natural interest is just in helping as many people as I can, so I'm very happy to have been a part of this. It means quite a bit to me.''
Contact Joey Johnston at email@example.com.