It started in a grocery store.
In 2018, Gabrielle Thorsen and her family were walking through the aisles when Gabrielle spotted a girl wearing a blue Cub Scout shirt.
“We stopped her family and asked them about her uniform,” Gabrielle says. “It turned out there was a Cub Scout meeting that night.”
A few minutes before 6:30 p.m., Gabrielle, her sister and her parents pulled into the parking lot of Bethany Lutheran Church in Bigfork, Mont., for their first Pack 4923 meeting.
Gabrielle joined as a Webelos and earned her Arrow of Light badge that first year. She moved to Scouts BSA Troop 1916 (Montana Council) on Feb. 1, 2019 — the very first day girls could join Scouts BSA.
Two years after that chance encounter at the grocery store, Gabrielle is on track to join the Inaugural Class of Female Eagle Scouts next year.
“After that first meeting, my life kind of changed. My family is outdoorsy, so Scouts just fit my personality,” Gabrielle says. “My dad earned the Eagle Scout rank, and my grandfather was in Scouts. I set the goal right away to earn the Eagle Scout rank and to be one of the first girls to do this.”
Scouting success stories like Gabrielle’s aren’t just about what young people take from Scouting — those life lessons embedded in you-can’t-do-this-anywhere-else adventures like two weeks at Camp Melita Island or two nights camping in the snow.
Scouting success stories are also about what young people give back to the world.
For her Eagle Scout service project, Gabrielle organized volunteers to sew more than 2,000 face coverings for essential workers, donating them to hospitals both within her community and around the world — including Los Angeles, New York and France.
“America needs leaders who are willing to help when they are needed in their communities, people who pay attention to what is going on around them, people who are examples to others and people who others look up to,” Gabrielle says. “I have learned that even though I am 13, I can make a difference in the lives of others.”
Eagle projects during a pandemic
Though we won’t know the final count until next year, it’s a safe guess that there will be more than 50,000 Eagle Scout service projects completed in 2020.
More than three-quarters of those projects — any not wrapped up by early March — will have been completed during a global pandemic that tested Scouts like never before.
Some of these Scouts completed Eagle projects in spite of the pandemic, finding creative ways to stay safe while still leading their volunteers through significant acts of service.
Other Scouts, like Gabrielle, complete Eagle projects directly because of the pandemic. Here’s how Gabrielle and her helpers made 2,000 face coverings:
- Find volunteers: Gabrielle called hospital administrators and business leaders around the country — “mostly people I did not know,” she says — to ask whether they were willing to help sew face coverings. She also asked classmates with home 3D printers to help create reusable face coverings.
- Stay COVID safe: Gabrielle set up a no-contact dropbox near her dad’s work. The box served two purposes: It was a place where she could leave supplies for volunteers to make face coverings, and it was the place where volunteers could brings those completed face coverings for Gabrielle to distribute.
- Distribute the face coverings: Gabrielle says this was the toughest part. “Some of the places requested a large number of face coverings at one time,” she says. “I would have to wait a few days in order to receive enough to fill the request.”
- Assess how you did: “I felt like some of the face coverings I donated helped or saved someone that I don’t even know,” Gabrielle says. “Most of the time, I didn’t meet the people who received the masks. I did receive some thank you notes in the mail. But what Scouts do today may not make a difference that we notice today but will affect the future.”
In the final count, Gabrielle and her helpers logged 1,375 service hours. At the 2020 Value of Volunteer Time rate, that’s $37,400 in service to the community.
Not done yet
More than 400 of the face coverings Gabrielle and her volunteers created were completed after her Eagle project was all over.
That’s something you’ll only find in Scouting — young people willing to keep making a difference long after they’ve done the minimum required.
The same is true of Gabrielle’s journey in Scouts BSA. Even after she becomes an Eagle Scout next year, Gabrielle isn’t done. She’s the senior patrol leader and says she’s excited for Troop 1916 to gain three more girls from her former pack.
“I’m looking forward to leading them and helping them learn the skills I have gained so far,” Gabrielle says, “and assisting them along their way to earning the different ranks toward their Eagle Award, if they choose.”
Dirk Smith, Montana Council Scout Executive, says Scouts like Gabrielle demonstrate the value that Scouting delivers to today’s families.
“We are honored to recognize these accomplished young women as the inaugural class and we are immensely proud of each Scout achieving their Eagle,” he says. “Eagle Scouts are some of the world’s finest leaders, demonstrating strong ethics and morals and making direct and lasting impacts in their communities. We are thrilled to see these female Scouts BSA members exemplify this adventure.”