It’s midday on a Saturday and the hum of sewing machines buzzes from a small room at Pollard United Methodist Church.
Inside, six high school students work at tables with sewing machines in front of them.
The teenagers are helping their friend, Girl Scout Alyssa Graham, with her Gold Award Project.
The Gold Award is the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. For her project, Alyssa, 15, a Robert E. Lee High School sophomore, is collecting toiletries for the organization People Attempting To Help, or PATH, which serves low-income residents in Smith County.
In addition, she is sewing T-shirt bags for the organization to use when distributing items from its Choice Food Pantry.
Although Alyssa started working on the project last fall, the official toiletries collection drive started this month and runs through the end of the month.
Alyssa’s goal is to collect toiletries to meet the needs of 500 families for one year. She also would like to make 500 T-shirt bags.
GROWING UP IN GIRL SCOUTS
Girl Scouting runs in the family for Alyssa. Her mother, who is her troop leader, was a Girl Scout, and her grandmother, who still leads a troop, also was a Girl Scout.
Alyssa started in the first grade when her mom and another mother launched the troop at Andy Woods Elementary School.
During the past nine years, Alyssa has moved through the ranks. And even when a lot of her friends chose not to continue when they started high school, she did.
Now, five of the 15 girls who started in first grade remain. Throughout the years, she has made memories participating in summer camp, traveling to Washington, D.C., for the organization’s 100th anniversary and learning about issues such as bullying and alcohol awareness.
She also has earned badges for horseback riding, fire building and sailing, among many other activities.
She said one of the main things she has gained from her time in Girl Scouts is confidence, because of the core group of friends she built.
“I think honestly it helped me to be my own person,” she said. “I didn’t worry about trying to fit in.”
EARNING A GOLD AWARD
Alyssa decided to incorporate PATH into her project because her parents have volunteered with the organization her entire life and she grew up helping them.
She realized a way she could help would be by providing toiletries and reusable bags.
PATH Executive Director Greg Grubb said the toiletries will be great for people because those are products that are not often available through other nonprofit organizations and cannot be purchased with government-issued food assistance. And the products can be expensive.
In addition, he said, they’re excited about the bags because the organization spends several hundred dollars a month purchasing paper bags to handout when people come to the Choice Food Pantry.
With the T-shirt bags, people will be able to reuse them, and they are actually recycling old clothing.
“We’re just very excited about Alyssa and her project,” he said adding that it’s really inspiring for a young person to take on such a large project like this one.
Throughout her project, Alyssa has received help from friends and fellow students, who have helped sew T-shirt bags.
In addition, some of the women from Pollard United Methodist Church helped girls in an afterschool program put on by St. Paul’s United Methodist Church to sew 100 bags in two days, Alyssa said.
Through this project, Alyssa has had to step outside of her comfort zone by speaking out on behalf of her project. This included, last fall, when she presented her project proposal to a Girl Scout Gold Award committee in Dallas to gain approval.
Once she started implementing it, she also met with the management at various businesses to see if she could put collection boxes onsite for toiletries.
So far, she has collection boxes at six locations, including three Walgreens stores, the Pollard United Methodist Church, CB&I and JV Tyler Engineers.
The Target in Tyler also provided her with a gift card to purchase toiletries and PATH put information about the project in its newsletter that goes out to supporting churches.
In addition to the support of her family, fellow church members and friends, two PATH employees have served as her advisers. She also has a Gold Award liaison with the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas in Dallas.
At the conclusion of the project, Alyssa will write a report about how it went and submit it to the Girl Scouts.
Assuming she earns the Gold Award, Troop 256, her troop, will have a ceremony, and she also will participate in a ceremony in Dallas.
PATH has agreed to carry on the project even after this year. The organization’s commitment helps to fulfill the requirement that the Gold Award project must be a sustainable project that continues for years after the initial implementation.
Alyssa said she plans to be involved with it for her remaining two years of high school to make sure it is stable before she leaves for college.
She will soon move to the next level of Girl Scouting, which is the ambassador level. In that role, she will serve as more of a leader, helping other girls to achieve their Gold Award.