A South Forsyth High School senior recently combined two of her biggest loves in life to receive a great honor.
Natalie Howard completed the requirements to earn the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest recognition bestowed in the female scouting world. It is equivalent to the rank of Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts.
“Only about 5,000 girls nationwide each year achieve the Gold Award, so she’s a member of a very select group of very distinguished young women who’ve accomplished something really special,” said Dana Pearce, one of three volunteers who serve as Gold Award mentors in Forsyth County.
By comparison, according to the Boy Scouts of America Web site, about 50,000 young men earn the Eagle rank each year.
Pearce said typically fewer than 10 girls throughout Forsyth County each year reach the Gold Award.
As her mentor, Pearce helped make sure Howard had a solid plan in place to achieve the status, and guided her throughout the process to ensure she stayed on track.
To achieve the Gold Award, a girl must complete a “very complicated” community service project.
Pearce said while it’s similar to the Eagle Scout ranking, the focus of the Gold Award process is not.
“It’s very different …in that with Eagle Scout it’s all about the process of getting to Eagle Scout, but the actual Eagle Scout project can be very simple,” Pearce said. “With the Gold Award, the project is very complicated.”
Pearce said a girl with her project must “demonstrate that she has what it takes to be a leader.”
“So she has to develop a project that is showing her leadership skills within her community, that she’s tackling an issue, that she is organizing,” Pearce said. “And that she’s not just going out there and doing something, but she’s also involving others in doing something about it as well.”
For her effort, which is called a “Take Action” project, Howard said she incorporated the sport of lacrosse.
“Mine was three-fold,” she said. “I did a [shoe] drive throughout Forsyth County for the first part and then I had a lacrosse clinic for my fundraiser. Then I hosted cutting parties where friends and I, multiple times over the summer, cut out shoe patterns for shoes that are sent to Africa to be made.”
The shoe drive benefitted Sole Hope, a nonprofit that provides shoes to widows and orphans in Uganda and Zambia, as well as to Atlanta area missions.
Through the drive, which ran from March to May, nearly 200 pairs of athletic shoes and various pieces of sports equipment were collected for Sole Hope.
Howard held her lacrosse clinic in April for elementary school-aged girls interested in learning more about the sport.
Through the clinic, Howard and seven other varsity lacrosse players from South and Lambert high schools, taught about 30 elementary girls.
“It was awesome because lacrosse is my big passion outside of school and outside of Girl Scouts,” she said. “I really like being able to help other girls find that spark like I did of, ‘Man, this is a cool sport.’”
That wasn’t the first time Howard has worked with younger girls, however. She said Girl Scouts has given her plenty of opportunities to serve as a mentor.
She hopes to inspire them to love the organization as she has throughout the 12 years she’s been involved with it.
Howard began as a Daisy, the first level of Girl Scouting, in kindergarten in Roswell. Her family moved later that year to Forsyth County, where she attended Daves Creek Elementary.
“When we first moved here … our neighborhood was kind of new. There were not a lot of people living in it, so not a lot of girls my age,” she said.
“But I joined a Girl Scout troop and those people were the people that I became really close friends with.”
Throughout the years, she said Girl Scouting provided her plenty of opportunities to “get out of my comfort zone.”
For example, she recalled a camping trip when she was about 8.
“I went zip lining and it was something that I thought I’d never do because I hated heights,” she said. “But I had girls who were like, ‘No, Natalie, you can do this.’
“Their encouragement gave me enough courage to get out of my comfort zone and try new things.”
She said she’s sometimes saddened that so many girls choose to leave Girl Scouts when they get to middle or high school because it’s no longer considered “cool” by some of their peers.
“It’s awesome and I just want girls that are in Girl Scouts who are like, ‘I’m going to quit when I get to middle school because it’s too hard or I don’t want to be made fun of’ to know that.
“You get to do stuff that none of the people who are telling you it’s not cool are ever going to get to do. It’s definitely worth sticking with it.”
While she’s proud to be a Scout, the organization is equally proud to have her as a representative.
“She’s a stellar example of what a leader should be and what Girl Scouts is all about in creating young women that have courage and confidence and character,” Pearce said. “Natalie is really just an outstanding example of what the Gold Award is all about.”