The Girl Scout experience can be incredibly rewarding.
Most girls create forever friendships and develop steadfast character qualities, and nearly all come to treasure a lifetime worth of Troop memories.
However, for 5.4% of members, transformative self-discovery and solution-driven community connection can lead to the highest recognition within the organization.
Elaine Feaster completed the Gold Award to land amongst other role-models and real-life superheroes who are making the world a better place.
Yet, with or without this honor, this Kid to Know is changing the world, and she’s only just begun.
TBPM: Tell us how you became passionate about service and giving back to the community at such a young age.
Elaine Feaster: My parents have always been volunteers in the community, and being a Girl Scout in Troop 1247 gave me many opportunities to give back.
Through the Girl Scouts, I earned my Bronze Award by helping the Humane Society, and for my Silver Award I chose to focus on literacy as I knew there were many children in local schools that didn’t have books to read at home.
When researching literacy information, I learned about the importance of being able to read well at an early age, the implications of being illiterate, and just how many children don’t own books or have access to books.
In middle-income neighborhoods, there are 13 books per child, but in low-income neighborhoods there is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children.
Up to 61% of low-income families do not have any books at all in their homes for their kids, which shocked me. I knew I had to try and help communities with this important issue.
Being diagnosed with dyslexia (a reading disability) in third grade helped me understand the importance of being able to read and comprehend, especially in the elementary school years.
A student who doesn’t read skillfully by third grade is four times more likely to drop out of school, and it leads to poor outcomes in the future, such as delinquency and unemployment.
I remember hearing: Kids first learn to read, then read to learn, so having the foundation of literacy early on is so critical.
That’s why I focused on Literacy Awareness for my Girl Scout Silver and Gold awards, because everyone needs to understand the significance of making sure all children can read.
TBPM: How do you come up with creative ideas to address literacy and book access issues in Hillsborough County?
Elaine Feaster: I started collecting books from neighbors and friends, then started a book collection at the YMCA using a simple tote box.
By doing this, I collected 7,000 books and donated them to Title 1 schools. The community support was overwhelming.
When I started working on my Gold Award, I needed to make it more sustainable, so I created a literacy portal website to help parents, students and teachers.
To refer people to the website, I collected more books through word of mouth and a community book drive and made a custom stamp to mark inside the books encouraging people to “Read. Share. Repeat.”
I collected and stamped over 4,500 books, also donated to Title 1 schools, and I keep ScoutingForBooks.com up to date with community information.
I also use Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to help spread literacy awareness.
I created a “Book Buddy” program, which was recognized by the Hillsborough County School Board, that encourages reading initiatives at schools and outlines how students/schools can help.
TBPM: Describe some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as you have worked on solutions to advocate for literacy and meet the requirements of the Silver and Gold Awards with the Girl Scouts?
Elaine Feaster: One of my biggest challenges was to make people aware that there are many students in our communities that cannot read and do not have books.
I think people assume that just because every child goes to school that they can all read, but that’s not the case.
Reading is the foundation for learning, which is the basis for my motto: “When you can read, you can learn anything!” Illiteracy is all around us, in both children and adults, and I use many communication methods to spread the word, such as the stamp in the donated books, website, social media and my bookmarks and business cards that I give to people I meet.
Another challenge was balancing a full course load with AP classes, extracurricular activities and working on my Gold Award.
It took 1.5 years and 120 hours to complete, but I’m proud to say that I completed my Take Action project in March and have earned my Gold Award.
TBPM: Your dedication to the community is inspiring, and you are truly a shining example of a great organization. Who inspires you?
Elaine Feaster: A large part of my inspiration came from Christene Worley who started PCAT (Parents and Children Advance Together), a non-profit literacy center that partners with Title 1 schools.
I met her while working on my Silver Award in middle school, and she encouraged me to speak at the Hillsborough County Children’s Board, which took my small word of mouth project to an overwhelming community effort.
For over 20 years, she has committed to improving literacy skills in young students, and her dedication is inspiring.
TBPM: What are some ways that local authors, book stores and donors can support your efforts?
Elaine Feaster: They can donate books to family shelters, community centers and schools, and fill book boxes around the community.
So many schools not only need books for their classrooms, but for students to have at home. Other ideas can be found on my website ScoutingForBooks.com
TBPM: What is your favorite thing to do outside of Girl Scouts in Tampa Bay?
Elaine Feaster: I really enjoy playing volleyball and have played all four years at Freedom High School.
I also love being outdoors, doing anything creative, especially writing poetry, painting and photography, hanging out with my friends, and—of course—reading.
Originally published in the October 2022 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.