Hudson Girl Scout Troop 91157, led by Diane Schwarz and Kristin Shawd, celebrates as three of its five members earned their Gold Award (Holly Damante, Morgan Fields, and Natalie Schwarz).

This award represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, and only 5.4 percent of eligible girls ever earn Gold compared with 60 percent of this dedicated Hudson Troop that did so.

Earning the Gold Award is a multi-step process that begins with two prerequisite "Journeys" (Girl Scout leadership programs) and culminates in an 80-plus hour community service project that must be pursued on an individual basis, equivalent to Eagle Scout projects.

Each girl must identify a community need, assess options to address that need and propose a solution to a Girl Scout board.

Proposals must include timelines, budgets, and authorization letters from impacted agencies or governing bodies.

Once a project is approved, candidates must procure needed materials, assemble and lead a team to implement their solution, document expenditures and hours, educate others on their project, demonstrate sustainability and finally report all project outcomes back to council via panel interview.

Each of the three girls chose a project that was personally meaningful. Holly Damante chose OPEN M in Akron for her service project, Natalie Schwarz selected Hudson Presbyterian Church of Hudson, and Morgan Fields opted to serve the reading residents of Hudson.

OPEN M is an organization that provides much needed community services to Akron neighborhoods, such as a free clinic, food pantry, hot meals, child care, and programs to help those in poverty.

Damante's project included painting office spaces at their downtown facility in order to brighten up the environment and to create a more cheerful and welcoming atmosphere. She also planted flowers in the outside gardens "to help the outside reflect everything that goes on inside,"she said.

Damante also created a lesson plan for the children enrolled in child care at OPEN M, which guides them how to get outside and have a hands-on experience caring for the flower beds while also learning about plant and outdoor life.

Fields, a lover of stories, created two "Little Free Libraries" to promote reading. They are in the downtown area of Hudson at the Boy Scout Cabin on the corner of Route 91 and 303, and by the playground at Veterans' Way Park.

"The whole premise of a little free library is take a book, leave a book," Fields said. "I would love it if people (both young and old) would be able to discover (or re-discover!) the joys of reading for pleasure."

All books are free, as long as patrons bring back another book next time they visit. Fields worked with the city of Hudson to acquire necessary authorizations, planned and hosted an event for other Scouts at The Yoga Lounge to collect donated books, used cookie funds to purchase building materials, assembled her build and installation team, and finally filed the necessary paperwork with littlefreelibrary.org to ensure the libraries would be registered on the organization's world map.

Schwarz, who plans to study environmental science after graduation, wanted to combine her interest in the outdoors and nature with her desire to give back to her lifelong church, Hudson Presbyterian EPC, located at 201 W. Streetsboro Street.

After meeting with church Elders to present her plan to improve the historic building's curb appeal by springing life into its surrounding grounds, she received approval and began work with her mentor. She began by taking an inventory of the existing beds and realized that many of the perennials could be split and redistributed elsewhere, thereby cutting her costs.

She then worked with the church to organize tree donations from members of the congregation and thereby only had to use funds raised through cookie sales to purchase the remaining plants and mulch.

When the weather permitted, she pulled together a team of workers to help install and immediately care for the newly designed beds. Finally, to ensure future care of the landscaping, Schwarz initiated the creation of a new garden group at HPC, which will oversee future upkeep of the spruced-up grounds.

The Troop leaders congratulated the three girls for their hard work and dedication in continuing Girl Scouts through graduation and for successfully completing their Gold Awards. The girls will be honored, along with 57 other 2017 Gold Award recipients, in Northeast Ohio at a celebration luncheon on June 17.