If there’s one word to describe Loudoun County High School student Kasey Blackburn, it’s determined.
At 8 a.m. on the morning of Monday, Aug. 14, the rising senior stumbled out of her Leesburg home to change the lives of a few women, to earn her Gold Award, the highest achievement within the Girl Scouts USA. The Gold Award is comparable to the Eagle Scout rank of the Boy Scouts of America.
In order to receive this honor, Blackburn spent one year mapping out a community service project, to redecorate five rooms in the Good Shepherd Alliance’s women and children’s shelter. Blackburn carefully planned out her days, to complete the rooms over the course of a work week, to fulfill the Girl Scouts of America’s 50-hour community service requirement.
"I’ve always loved helping people," the long-time Girl Scout said. "This project gives me the opportunity to do that. The Girl Scouts gives me the opportunity to do that all the time."
When Blackburn arrived at the farm house at 9 a.m., a few smiling women and children greeted her at the door. The 17-year-old laid out her paints, brushes and pans and got right to work. With the help of her mother, Jeni Stuart, and fellow Girl Scout Ashley Black, Blackburn began to transform the first of five rooms of the house into colorful works of art.
Despite the 90 degree heat and lack of air conditioning, she finished painting one of the bathroom’s four walls a vibrant green. While she scrubbed the tile floor, Stuart drilled holes over the freshly painted windowsill to hang curtains donated by Target.
Stuart introduced the Girl Scouts of America to her daughter, when she led her Brownie troop. While drilling a hole, she began to recite the Girl Scout Promise with her daughter.
"On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout law," they said in unison.
OVER THE NEXT five days, Blackburn will be doing just that. She plans to redecorate three bedrooms and a bathroom with fresh paint, curtains, new bedding and a few decorations.
"I’m going to take it one day at a time," she said.
In order to give the rooms a new look, she went from neighbor’s homes to local businesses collecting donations. She created wish lists and registries at stores, like Target and Home Depot, to make it easier for people to buy for her project.
"It was a lot of work," she said. "It took a long time to plan, but it’s here. I can’t believe it. I’m excited about getting to work."
She’s coaxed friends and family members to come in to help her over the course of the week.
Fellow Girl Scout and recent Loudoun County High School graduate Ashley Black helped Blackburn paint on Monday.
"I'm helping Kasey because she helped me with my project," she said.
Last year, Black planted 50 elm trees around Loudoun County to earn her Gold Award, which she said was memorable and rewarding.
"It's a long process," she said, "but it felt good to complete."
At 5 p.m., Blackburn sat on the bathroom floor scrubbing the grout between small tiles. She washed her lime green paint brushes and fingernails. Her mother continued to hang a white rod over the window.
"Does this look straight," she called from the top of a ladder.
BY THE END of day one, Blackburn’s hands were painted green. She bangs were matted to her forehead and she was grinning from ear to ear.
"A few women have come in, poked their heads in," she said. "They seem to be really excited. I’m really excited."
Good Shepherd Alliance's Joy Trickett understands how much a fresh coat of paint and new bedding means to the women and children of the shelter.
"It's like she's brightening up the world for people who've been through a lot," she said.
Trickett described Blackburn as an "exceptional lady."
"Even the color of the paints she picked — they'll brighten up their day," she said. "When they see that, it's going to be like sunshine instead of rain."
After a long day’s work, Blackburn went to a neighbor’s house to dog sit. She had a list of things to remember for the next day, which she carefully went over in her head while feeding the dog.
"There are so many things to do," she said. "Luckily, I have my mom."
With the help of her mother and friends, Blackburn hopes to finish the rooms by Friday night. When she completes her project, she will earn her Gold Award pin, which is shaped like a star. But for Blackburn, it seems like she is more concerned with the finished project and a job well done, than she is about the reward at the end of the tunnel.