Manhasset Troop 520 Achieves a Rare Feat

Ten Manhasset High School Girls have accomplished a feat less than 6 percent of all eligible Girl Scout members do. 

Julie Alonso, Gabriela DeCastro, Skyler Gaccione, Daniela Haigian, Julia Henry, Kalliopi Kapetanos, Paige Mantikas, Lauren Merola, Stephanie Palma, Ally Steck and Amanda Wysota, all seniors, will receive the Gold Award — the Girl Scout’s highest honor.

The 10 girls, members of Troop 520 and seniors at Manhasset High School, will receive the award at the June 3 ceremony at Shelter Rock Elementary School.

“The Gold Award is the highest and the most difficult achievement of the Girls Scout,” said Connie Wysota, leader of Troop 520 based in Manhasset.

To win the award, the girls have to have earned the silver award, which can only be granted as a cadet or in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, Wysota said.

“You also have to have completed the journey — a seven-month project that culminates a take action project (leadership project),” she said.

Lauren Merola, 18, created a musical show entitled “Magical Melodies” that was performed multiple times at a local nursing home for Alzheimer’s and dementia residents.

“Experts say that music can ‘awaken’ the brains of these individuals, allowing them to communicate more effectively and meaningfully with their loved ones, so I used the power of music to rejuvenate the brain activity and memory of these patients to put a smile on their face and alleviate their suffering,” Merola said. 

Merola said she was inspired to create the musical based on the experience she had with her great aunt when she suffered a stroke.

“Music provided the only form of communication between my great Aunt Rosie and me,” Merola said. “We loved to hum to the tunes of Frank Sinatra and sway to the crooning of Tony Bennett. Music was our bond and the only way she was able to recognize me and speak to me.”

Merola said it was tough to organize and coordinate the performances because she reminded her of the “harshness of cognitive deficits” her aunt went through.

“The girls come up with their own individual projects and I think that’s why so few students get it done,” Wysota said. “You have to be self motivated with good leadership skills to complete the project.”

Julie Alonso’s project promoted skin cancer awareness and prevention. 

“Many of my family members have developed skin cancer so I thought it was a good topic to educate myself and other youths about the disease that is easiest to prevent from a young age,” Alsono said.

Wysota, 55, said individual troop member develops an idea for the project they want to embark on and get it approved by the Girls Scout of Nassau County. 

The Gold Award Committee reviews each idea, individually, and decides if the project moves forward,” Wysota said. 

If the project is green-lighted, each girl is assigned a mentor who will serve as a mentor till the project is completed, Wysota said.

“It takes a significant amount of commitment to complete because majority of the students are busy with other things in their lives,” Wysota said.

She said her students are either busy with jobs, school or either applying for college since most of them are seniors in high school. 

Daniela Haigian, who created “Adventures in Reading,” a program designed to improve literacy and enhance reading comprehension in elementary school students will be attending Georgetown University.

She’s the president of National Art Honor Society, treasurer of the History Honor Society, and is involved in numerous other clubs such as National Honor Society, Math Honor Society, Interact Club, and Spanish Honor society, all of which have a large emphasis on community service. 

Of the 11 girls in Wysota’s Girl Scout Troop 520, 10 have earned the Gold Award and one is still completing her requirements, Wysota said.

“Most of them have been in Girl Scouts since they started kindergarten 13 years ago,” Wysota said.

Girl Scouts starts as early as kindergarten level where they are called Daisies. 

Grade two to three members are called “Brownies,” grades four and five are called “juniors,” grades six through eight are called “cadets,” grades nine and 10 are called “seniors” and 11 and 12 are called “ambassadors”.

She said while each earning her Gold Award is impressive, their commitment to Girl Scouts over the years is even more remarkable.

“Two of the girls actually completed the requirements last year but waited to be recognized so that they could be honored as a troop this year,” Wysota said.

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Adedamola Agboola

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