FRASER — Jade Stirling met an armed forces veteran named Jeff in one of her art courses at Macomb Community College, conversing about Girl Scout cookies and military memories.
When Stirling spoke to her mother, relaying the details of her conversation with Jeff and how she wanted to help him, she was provided with some motherly wisdom.
That’s how she came up with the idea to bridge the gap in communication via the Internet by allowing citizens to directly contact organizations that aid veterans, and for veterans to submit their own stories.
What she earned in return was a Gold Award, which is the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve. It is the equivalent of an Eagle Scout distinction, and less than five percent of Girl Scouts nationwide receive the honor.
The Gold Award was given to Stirling by the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan (GSSEM) at an honor reception on May 4.
“It is pretty prestigious,” Stirling said. “I feel like I accomplished a huge goal. It was a really great opportunity, and I feel like I did something to give back to the community. It makes me feel good about myself that I managed to push through.”
It was a project that took 19-year-old Stirling — who is currently an adult volunteer after 12 years as a Girl Scout — more than 120 hours to complete due to interviewing, gaining sponsorships and networking.
“Most of the veterans have been really happy to give out information,” Stirling said. “I’ve yet to meet anybody who doesn’t want to help the veterans in some way.”
The requirements for the Girl Scout Gold Award start with completing two Girl Scout Senior or Ambassador Journeys, or earning the Girl Scout Silver Award and completing one Senior or Ambassador Journey.
Caroline Feathers, the series and event specialist for GSSEM, said that once prerequisites are completed, a Girl Scout will then embark on a “Take Action” project that must follow certain criteria: identify an issue, investigate it thoroughly, build a team, create and present a plan, gather feedback, take action, and educate and inspire others.
Scouts must dedicate a minimum of 80 hours to project completion. A committee of about 20 people, consisting of volunteers from different jurisdictions (GSSEM includes eight different counties), then looks at the “Take Action” projects and identify those who did something exceptional in the community.
“There’s actually points that we look at, whether or not they’ve gone above and beyond, has she reached out and built her team, how many people are involved, how is sustainability built in, has one organization picked it up, have other people bought into it?”
“(Jade) identified a unique need, which is something typical that we always see. Working with veterans is a need that not many girls think about.”
Stirling’s website is www.helpourheroes.us, a name her father came up with. He also paid for the domain as a high school graduation gift.
While her project reaches many veterans in the community, she was motivated by one person in particular who she wanted to make proud.
“My grandpa is a veteran himself, and he was a big inspiration for this project,” Jade said. “A lot (of veterans) go through trouble. … There’s a lot of stigma (about) mental conditions and high unemployment rates, and how it makes it hard to talk to normal citizens because they think (veterans are) raging lunatics.
“I’m helping people understand more and helping veterans speak to these people.”