When Lexi Howard attended her first Girl Scouts troop meeting nearly a decade ago, she didn’t exactly picture herself one day earning the world’s most prestigious award for girls.
“My sister was a Girl Scout, and I heard there were snacks,” the 17-year-old Pinckney High School senior admits.
Today, she is poised to receive the Girl Scout Gold Award, which is given to leaders who take steps to develop lasting solutions to global challenges, and is often referred to as the equivalent of an Eagle Scout badge.
While many girls enter the scouting organization in the early elementary years, Howard says she was one of only a handful to continue into middle school and beyond. An accomplished musician who plays the trumpet in the marching and jazz bands, participates in the school theater company, and even plays soccer, Howard credits Girl Scouts with helping her expand her social circle and cultivate her passion for service.
“I got the chance to meet so many people and to see that there are so many big and small ways to help people,” she said.
The Gold Award project first requires identifying a community issue around which a lasting solution can be built, then researching it extensively, building a support team, and ultimately executing the plan. Under the guidance of her longtime troop leader Linda Shultes, Howard decided to focus her project around the idea of inspiring youth activism.
“I wanted to help eighth graders figure out what it is that they are passionate about, and give them the resources and the confidence that they need in order to actually stand up for what they believe in,” she said. “I wanted to show them how valid their voices are, despite their youth and despite the fact that they cannot vote.”
Howard created two sets of lesson plans for eighth graders at Pathfinder Middle School, and then trained a group of high school students to teach the classes. The sessions consisted of activities and discussions designed to get the younger students to think about their passions, and then engage in the political process to fight for what they believe in. Students learned how to identify a problem, determine what changes could be made to remedy it, and then take steps to do just that.
Prior to the activities, Howard says fewer than half of the eighth graders indicated via survey that they believed they had a voice as a young person. But in the post-survey, she says 85.6 percent of respondents noted that they “have the ability to stand up for what [they] believe in.”
Howard estimates she has spent nearly 100 hours of work on the project, in addition to 450 hours logged by her support team. The Gold Award will be officially bestowed upon her at a formal ceremony later this year.
Howard, who has been accepted at both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and is considering studying politics and policy, says the project reaffirmed her belief in the power of youth.
“They are passionate about things. They care. I feel like as a society we have to let them,” she said. “We have to listen. We have to tell them how valid their voices are.”