They’ve been friends for 13 years and they’re all from Buellton. Now seniors at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, Nicole Bastanchury, Emily Donahue and Madison Gann, members of Girl Scout Troop 50173, have earned their Gold Awards with community projects aimed at recycling materials and saving money.
The Gold Award establishes recipients as leaders and is considered the highest achievement in Girl Scouts. Only seven Girl Scouts from Buellton have earned the award since 2012, said Mina Lajevardi, public relations and communications manager for Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast.
To earn a Gold Award, Girl Scouts must be in high school and must complete their Bronze and Silver awards. They have to commit a minimum of 80 hours to a community project that applies a creative solution to an existing problem.
Bastanchury, 17, launched “Back to the Basics,” a Gold Award project that pays homage to sewing by making dresses for local homeless shelters and girls in Africa. Bastanchury’s goal was to make 150 dresses out of pillow cases donated by community members, but “Back to the Basics” was largely about teaching young girls — and boys — how to sew.
“I hosted a clinic in Buellton at Creation Station,” she said. “We made 160 dresses and then I donated them to Little Dresses for Africa Organization, Santa Barbara Transition House and Hurricane Harvey Relief through Recovery Ranch in Santa Ynez.”
Donahue organized “Stress Less and Dress for Success.” Her Gold Award project inspired Valley residents to donate “new or gently used” dresses for girls.
“I got about 200 dresses donated from the community,” said Donahue, 18. “It was kind of a way to reuse the dresses that had been bought in the community. It was real fun to make a project and go out into the community and help other members of the community and — through Girl Scouts — inspire other people to donate dresses.”
To earn her Gold Award, Gann created “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” The project encourages shoppers to stop using plastic bags by replacing them with cloth handbags made from T-shirts.
“My project was based on the new Santa Barbara law that doesn’t allow grocery stores to hand out plastic bags anymore,” said Gann, 17.
She set up drop boxes at various locations in the Valley for residents to donate T-shirts that were then repurposed as grocery bags.
“I worked with parks and rec at the summer camp in Buellton and taught [participants] the harms of plastic bags and how to make bags out of T-shirts,” she said, noting 70 cloth bags were distributed at the Solvang Farmers Market.
“I really wanted to do my project on something I was passionate about,” Gann added.
Although Gann attended Dunn School in Los Olivos her sophomore and junior years, the three friends attended Oak Valley Elementary School in Buellton together. All three attributed their enduring friendship to Girl Scouts.
“We’ve all been in Girl Scouts for about 13 years,” said Donahue, noting they keep one another motivated.
Gann pointed out the girls met at least once a month throughout high school to discuss their progress in Girl Scouts, coordinate their projects and stay focused.
Asked whether it was difficult to stay focused on studies and participate in high school extracurricular activities while remaining involved in Girl Scouts, each agreed it was worth the effort.
“I don’t think it was hard being in Girl Scouts while I was in high school,” said Gann, who created a YouTube video to promote her Gold Award project and teach viewers the environmental benefits of eliminating plastic bags. “I believe it’s always worth it to stay [in Scouts] even if you have a lot of other activities.”
“It’s fun being in high school and Girl Scouts because it’s something you can’t get anywhere else,” she said.
Donahue’s project incorporated key components of the Gold Award: Use resources wisely and ensure the project is sustainable. She said participating in Girl Scouts while attending high school is rewarding.
“It helps you learn how to manage your time and makes being in high school more enjoyable by being involved in different things,” said Donahue, who created a Facebook page to promote her project.
“I do not think being in high school and Girl Scouts is difficult,” Donahue continued. “I think having the three of us being so close helps, too.”
Gann agreed, noting she also used social media to promote her Gold Award project.
“I used Facebook and YouTube as well,” she said. “For my YouTube video I recorded myself talking about my project and the pros of T-shirts and the cons of plastic bags. I didn’t expect my project to eliminate plastic bags … but [it] helped.”
The young women credited a number of adults — including their moms, teachers and scouting leaders — with offering advice over the years.
“They’ve taught us how to be more resourceful and almost street smart,” said Donahue.
“And be safe on our trips,” Gann added.
Bastanchury, who used her mother’s existing Facebook page to promote her project, cited her mom and Donahue’s mother as role models.
“As we’ve grown up, they’ve taught us how to do work ourselves, to be self-sufficient,” Bastanchury said.
Gann credited adults throughout the Valley, especially the city of Buellton, as role models.
“I admire the people in our community and how willing they were to help us,” she said.
“From neighbors to store owners, everyone is willing to support us,” said Bastanchury, crediting Harrison Ace Hardware in Santa Ynez, Albertsons of Buellton, the Buellton Library and the parks and rec centers of Buellton and Solvang. “Being in such a close community, with so much support, has gotten us through all our projects.
“The Creation Station helped donate sewing materials,” she continued, “but they also lent the use of sewing machines during the clinic.”
Some people might think being a Girl Scout in high school is silly; but some people would be wrong, as each of these young women makes clear.
“Remember that even if it may seem not cool at the moment, it has tremendous long-term benefits,” said Donahue, who has applied to the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She plans to major in kinesiology and wants to become a physical therapist.
“It’s an awesome experience you can’t find at school, necessarily,” Donahue said of scouting.
Bastanchury, who applied to the University of California, Davis, echoed her friend’s thoughts.
“I think scouting does have that stereotype of ‘not cool,’” said Bastanchury, who plans to major in either biochemistry or molecular biology.
“Do what you want to do,” she advised young girls. “Scouting gives you opportunities to do what you like.”
Gann, who applied at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and is contemplating careers either in broadcast journalism or law, said being a Girl Scout is the epitome of cool these days.
“I know a lot of people just think of Girl Scouts as selling cookies,” said Gann. “It teaches you leadership and character building and friendships that you have for life.”
Speaking of Girl Scout cookies, what’s the favorite among these Gold Award winners?
“Thin Mints,” Donahue said without hesitating.
“Thin Mints,” she said. “I like to freeze them.”
Bastanchury took a more contemplative approach.
“Even though Thin Mints is the obvious choice for everyone, and I love them, too,” she said, “I will have to say, I like Caramel DeLites.”