Three La Jolla High seniors strike Gold in addressing health concerns

La Jolla High seniors Ashlyn Brunette, Sophie Hochberg and Samantha Ponticello recently achieved the Girl Scout Gold Award.
La Jolla High School seniors Ashlyn Brunette, Sophie Hochberg and Samantha Ponticello (from left) recently achieved the Girl Scout Gold Award.
(Provided photos)

Girl Scout Gold Award winners Ashlyn Brunette and Sophie Hochberg took on projects dealing with mental health, while Samantha Ponticello started a website with guidance about strokes.


With graduation roughly two weeks away, three La Jolla High School seniors have achieved another goal they’ve been working toward: the Girl Scout Gold Award.

Ashlyn Brunette, Sophie Hochberg and Samantha Ponticello have completed projects for the Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouts, which requires each girl who attempts it to identify a problem, strategize a plan to address it and conduct 80 hours of community service to execute the plan.

The three girls — each of whom has been in Girl Scouts since kindergarten — also had to work with a mentor, put together and lead a team and write a final report on their projects.

“There’s a lot of leadership and teamwork involved,” Hochberg said.

The awards ceremony is in June.

Ashlyn Brunette

To earn her Gold Award, Brunette presented a lacrosse camp for about 50 elementary- and middle school-age girls in her community after finding that during the COVID-19 pandemic, children she babysat felt isolated from friends.

“[Their] parents were noticing these negative mental health effects,” Brunette said.

She targeted the lacrosse camp for girls near “the age where I was joining sports teams and meeting new people,” she said. The girls were “missing a key time [for] joining sports.”

The camp taught lacrosse fundamentals and offered “sit-down conversations with the girls about basic aspects of mental health, like support groups, stress, managing time” and more, Brunette said.

Brunette, who played lacrosse for La Jolla High, said she received positive feedback from parents and plans to repeat the camp this summer before she leaves to attend UCLA.

Sophie Hochberg

Hochberg, who will attend Vanderbilt University, is interested in majoring in psychology and wanted to plan her Gold Award project in that field, tying in her love of ice skating.

The result was a “mental health boot camp” for student-athletes.

“I realized that mental illness for sports players ... isn’t something that’s really addressed as a society,” she said.

Hochberg gathered a sports psychologist, a meditation instructor and a nutritionist to talk to a group of about 25 of her peers about mental illness specifically for student-athletes — including ways to cope with and overcome it.

“Everyone talked about their own experiences if they wanted,” she said.

Hochberg shared the information for four weeks at a booth at the La Jolla Open Aire Market, giving out pamphlets with a summary of the advice gleaned at the camp.

Samantha Ponticello

Ponticello created a website to guide people after a loved one suffers a stroke.

The site,, contains tips for identifying the signs of a stroke and advice for helping someone through the healing process.

Ponticello was moved to start the project after her grandmother had a stroke.

The website includes everything Ponticello and her family learned after the stroke, along with information from a stroke support person.

She also hosted a booth at the Open Aire Market to help educate people about the signs of a stroke and made posters illustrating the acronym FAST for face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty and time to call 911.

“I put those around La Jolla for people to see,” she said.

Ponticello said stroke victims and their family members would approach her at the market to write down the website address.

Ponticello, who will attend Syracuse University, said she will update the website as she learns more. ◆