Four La Jolla High School seniors strike Gold with Girl Scouts’ highest award

Girl Scouts SD logo
(Courtesy illustration)

Four La Jolla High School students were among 82 Girl Scouts who received the organization’s highest honor when Girl Scouts San Diego presented them with Gold Awards at a ceremony June 11 at Liberty Station in Point Loma.

They are seniors Selma Hyytinen, Kristine Mackey, Natalie Saham and Kenan Thomas.

To earn the Gold Award, a Girl Scout in grades nine through 12 must identify a local, national or global problem, draft a plan to address a root cause and lead a team of volunteers to implement the plan.

“Pursuing and earning the Girl Scout Gold Award has deep impacts on both the world and the Girl Scout herself,” said Carol Dedrich, chief executive of Girl Scouts San Diego.

The Girl Scouts who are honored “see themselves differently after setting out to create real, lasting changes and achieving meaningful results,” Dedrich said. “They also now hold a credential that will be with them for the rest of their lives and allow them to stand out when it comes to college admissions, scholarships, internships and job applications.”

Selma Hyytinen

Selma Hyyntinen
(Courtesy of Girl Scouts San Diego)

Hyytinen’s Gold Award project was to create access to menstrual products for teenage girls.

She started a club at La Jolla High School to spread awareness on the topics of “period poverty” (a lack of access to menstrual products, sanitation facilities and adequate menstrual education) and gender inequality.

In partnership with the San Diego Unified School District, she led her club to organize donation drives for menstrual products and help girls in the community who can’t afford them.

Hyytinen said she was inspired to get involved with period poverty during her sophomore year and knew since then that it would be the subject of her Gold Award project.

“There wasn’t a lot of talk about period poverty at that time, so I thought starting the club would be a great way to accomplish what I set out to do,” she said. “It’s a global issue that involves women being overlooked by everything from national governments that tax menstrual products to homeless shelters [where she says the products aren’t as available as they need to be]. Menstruation is not a choice, yet we don’t get taxpayer dollars paying for menstrual products. At least one country has free menstrual products, which I think is a goal in the movement.”

Hyytinen said the award recognition is bittersweet.

“I’ve been in Girl Scouts for 13 years and always wanted to receive a Gold Award, so while I’m sad that my time in Girl Scouts is done, getting the award was the cherry on top,” she said.

Kristine Mackey

Kristine Mackey
(Nancee E. Lewis)

Mackey was inspired to make autism awareness the focus of the Gold Award project after noticing mistreatment — largely unintentional — of autistic people, including at school, among friends and in the community.

After much research, Mackey put together a Zoom presentation with interactive elements for Girl Scout troops and the special-education department at La Jolla High.

Mackey partnered with San Diego-based nonprofit Be Involved Act Now Champion Autism, or BIANCA, to spread the word about the project.

“A lot of [why autistic people are not treated well] is due to lack of education about autism, so I wanted to educate my community about what it is and how to treat autistic people with respect and dignity,” Mackey said. “What surprised me is how much misinformation there is on the internet, and it seemed contradictory to what I was hearing from autistic people.

“I had a survey at the end, and reading that I could see that a lot of people had learned something new and had a change in their mindset.”

Natalie Saham

Natalie Saham
(Courtesy of Girl Scouts San Diego)

To earn her Gold Award, Saham launched Project LEARN during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Concerned by a lack of educational resources and support available for elementary school students transitioning to online learning during the pandemic, she created and implemented a remote one-on-one tutoring program to serve fourth-graders at Bird Rock Elementary School in La Jolla and Marshall Elementary in City Heights. She trained volunteer tutors to provide support in math, history and writing.

Today, her program continues at both elementary schools through the La Jolla High School Pandemic Academics tutoring program.

As a “humanities person,” math was always challenging for her, Saham said.

“A big reason I wanted to focus on math tutoring is because academic confidence develops when students are younger,” she said. “It makes a huge difference when students have access to that extra help. Having that help changed the trajectory of my school career and let me know I could do well in math, even when I didn’t think so. This pandemic has messed up a lot for a lot of people, and I wanted to really help people.”

Fourth grade was a deliberate choice because more complex concepts such as multiplication are introduced at that age, she said. “That can already be a struggle for some, so helping those kids get the help they need can minimize that struggle. The Zoom format is so accessible and affords the opportunity for students in San Diego to tutor students everywhere. Having access to free tutoring is super important in that it can benefit everyone equally.”

Kenan Thomas

Kenan Thomas
(Courtesy of Girl Scouts San Diego)

For her Gold Award project, Thomas created a way to dispose of unused and unwanted medications.

After having unused prescription opioids left over from a surgery, she discovered that safe drug disposal options could be inconvenient or unavailable to patients. To address the issue, Thomas partnered with the Safe Homes Coalition, Rady Children’s Hospital, Center for Oral and Facial Surgery and La Jolla High School to create a program in which every teenager who was prescribed opioids after surgery would receive a pharmacy drop-off bag or a mail-back envelope, pre-addressed to a safe drug disposal facility.

To date, Thomas has distributed about 800 envelopes and bags.

“I wanted to focus on this because addiction and accessibility to habit-forming pills is something that needs to be removed in my age group,” she said. “When I got my wisdom teeth out, I was given a whole bottle of prescription pain medication. I only used a few pills and didn’t know what to do with the rest. I put them in a cupboard and I realized my mom had some from a previous surgery in there. They were just there and available to anyone that walked into our house.”

“I’m so happy to see my hard work rewarded [with a Gold Award],” Thomas added. “I really hope my project can help stop addiction.”

— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Lori Weisberg contributed to this report.