While her friends and classmates were enjoying the break from school and having fun this summer, Abigail Waits, a Girl Scout with Cadette Troop 11816, was on a mission.
Over the summer, Waits achieved the second-highest award in Girl Scouts, the Silver Award, by spending more than 50 hours of work in the community, raising money and soliciting donations to buy and build toy boxes for children in the cardiac wing of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
Waits’ mother, Heather, said that when her 13-year-old daughter said that she wanted to tackle such a big project over the summer, they were skeptical it could be pulled off. But in the end Abigail’s passion pulled the project off without a hitch.
"She said she wanted to do it over one summer, and I was like, 'No, I don't think that's going to happen,’" Heather Waits said. "But she knocked it out of the park, and I was really surprised."
She said that to achieve the Silver Award, Girl Scouts must find an issue in the community that they care about, and develop a plan to tackle it, spending a total of 50 hours or more on the project.
Abigail, an eighth-grader at Riverwatch Middle School, said that she chose to help children at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta because one of her twin brothers had to have open heart surgery at CHOA shortly after his birth. She said that it has always stuck with her how scary it must be for kids who are in the hospital for such a long time, being away from home and friends.
"So I researched organizations that help out kids in hospitals and I found Jared's Box Project,” Abigail said.
According to Heather Waits, Jared's Box Project is an organization that believes in “the healing power of play and joy,” providing “Busy Boxes,” shoe boxes filled with toys, games, puzzles and books to children in hospitals.
After deciding on the project and coordinating with the head nurse at CHOA’s cardiac wing, Abigail said she began going out into the community to ask for donations.
“I had to research businesses for donations and call and ask them for help. Some gave and some didn’t,” Abigail said, explaining that to get the donations she had to work through the awkwardness of cold calling and asking for help.
Heather Waits said that when her daughter began calling up business after business, they were blown away by her fearlessness.
"She's normally very shy, so the fact that she picked up the phone to call all those people to ask for donations, I was really like, 'Wow you don't even have a script or anything,'" Heather Waits said.
In the end, after the project was shared by her mom online and stores like Learning Express and The School Box decided to make a donation, Abigail filled 62 boxes with $1,300 worth of toys and other items.
"It makes me feel really happy that [the children] will be able to take their mind off things and they can be happy," Abigail said.
Now Abigail is set on getting the Girl Scout Gold Award in the next few years and eventually pursuing her dream of becoming an interior designer.
"I feel really excited and I feel like I accomplished something that no-one else did," Abigail said. "I'm the first one in my troop who has earned the Silver Award."
Heather Waits said that now that the project is over, she has seen a noticeable difference in how Abigail deals with challenges and adversity in her everyday life.
"I think it really improved her independence,” Heather Waits said. “She just steps up now and does what needs to be done. I'm really proud of her, and she has surprised me."