A few years ago, Aimee Lyn Burns and her Girl Scouts of the United States of America Troop 3934 were working at Operation Turkey, a community service food-and-clothing drive held before Thanksgiving to aid the homeless and less fortunate. Miss America 2000, Heather French, was making one of her tour stops at the event. A former member of the Girl Scouts of America herself, French spoke to Burns' troop about her experiences as a Girl Scout and how proud she was to have received her Girl Scouts Gold Award. Above all, French encouraged the girls to continue their journey in Scouting.
Now, years later, Burns has received her own Girl Scouts Gold Award, the highest honor given to any Girl Scout and the reward for years of hard work and dedication to one project.
Burn's project was an instrument "petting zoo" where elementary-school students could come and handle, learn about and even play brass, percussion and woodwind instruments.
"I recalled in elementary school when people came into to talk to us about different instruments," the Ashburn teen said, explaining how her idea came about. "I thought it would be great for kids to actually be around the instruments and see them and touch them, so they knew what they were really like. It might inspire them even more to become interested in music."
GROWING UP, BOTH music and the Girl Scouts played a large role in Burns' life. She started as a Brownie when she was in the first grade and continued to be active in her troop throughout her high-school years. The only child of a military family, Burns was exposed to music at a young age thanks in part to her mother, Destiny Burns, who played both the flute and the piano growing up, made a conscious effort to give her daughter a rounded education.
"I have always believed that music really does help kids become better learners," Destiny Burns, a retired Navy officer, said. "We would supplement Aimee's education outside of school with music lessons. I think there needs to be a good balance between academics and the arts."
In the ninth grade, Aimee Burns' began to play percussion instruments and immediately fell in love with them, joining her high school's band and playing until her graduation last spring. Now in her freshman year as a music education major at James Madison University, Aimee Burns says that music taught her more than just how to create art.
"Being a part of music taught me real-life skills," she said. "I learned about time management trying to fit in extra performances and rehearsals. I learned a lot about communication and working with others. If it wasn't for all the requirements of music, I wouldn't be able to survive in college."
AIMEE BURNS, 18, WANTED to pass both her love for music and the benefits it can bring to the next generation of students. Working with the Westfield High School administration and the band director, Aimee Burns arranged to hold her "petting zoo" at the school before a band concert last April. It was important to her to allow the students to not only handle the instruments, but then be able to see them used in a live performance.
The evening was a culmination of over a year of work for Aimee Burns, who was required to complete several prerequisites before starting her final project, which made her a candidate for the Gold Award.
The award, which is equivalent to the Boy Scouts of America's Eagle Scout award, requires the Scout to create and execute a large project that gives something back to the community.
"The goal is to have [the girls] putting what they've learned in Scouting into the community," said Celia Overby, teen program specialist for the Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital. "We do also ask that the project be something that could continue after [the Scout] has left."
Each Scout hoping to receive her Gold Award must complete prerequisites by receiving her leadership pin, a career award earned through internships and other career activities, and her challenge pin, which requires the Scout to answer questions about her community's needs. The final project must be approved by the Girl Scout Council and needs to include a minimum of 50 hours of the Scout's own work.
"The Gold Award requires a big commitment from the girls," said Destiny Burns, who was also her daughter's troop leader and a former Scout. "I sat down and fleshed out ideas. I peppered them with questions that I knew the council would ask and they were required to lay out every step of their project."
FOR HER FINAL project, Aimee Burns solicited help from her fellow band members, getting them to bring instruments such as saxophones, trombones, clarinets and drums to the event for the elementary-school students to handle. Looking to help children who were less likely to be exposed to music, Aimee Burns advertised her event at mostly underprivileged schools.
Her efforts were rewarded with a large and enthusiastic turnout.
"One of the things that stood out about Aimee's project was that she got a ton of people to attend," Overby said. "Her project was clearly something personal and really benefited the community."
For Aimee Burns the best part was being able to give children the gift of music.
"I've always been really active in Girl Scouts, working with the younger girls," she said. "It was wonderful to be able to share my love of music with the next generation."