If asked about Girl Scouts, the most likely image to pop into someone’s mind will be of a young girl selling cookies. However, one local member has proven there’s much more to being a Girl Scout than a box of Thin Mints.
Olivia Lawley, a senior at Putnam County High School (PCHS), was only 5 years old when she joined the Girl Scouts as a Daisy. In the years since, this Daisy has blossomed into a focused young woman determined to help improve not only her own community, but others as well.
“When I started scouts it was a fun thing to do with all of my friends, but as I got older, more and more girls quit until I was the only one left,” Lawley said.
A member without a troop becomes known as a “Juliette,” a title inspired by Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts in 1912. With support from her mother, Toni, and later support from Dawn Conerton, project coordinator for Community Partners Against Substance Abuse (CPASA), Lawley has completed the long and rewarding journey towards earning the Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouts.
“I think being a Juliette was a good thing. It kept me busy with my projects because there wasn’t anyone there to goof off with,” she said, laughing.
Looking back over the years spent completing dozens of different projects, her favorites were the ones which helped others in her community.
“I don’t view working at fundraisers or hosting events as an obligation, but more of a responsibility. It’s my job to give back to the world and make it a better place,” she said.
Lawley said scouting has made her a well-rounded person with valuable networking and leadership skills and she’s looking forward to using them throughout her life.
“Girl Scouts is fully based on being strong enough to help others in any way you can and I believe it’s incredibly important that girls learn to do this at a young age. It’s a life-changing lesson,” she said.
Lawley said that according to the Girl Scouts, only 5.4 percent of girls end up earning a Gold Award.
“I believe that number is low because it’s a lot of work. In all, it took me two years to complete,” she said.
For her project, Lawley created a youth group based out of the Bureau and Putnam County Health Department (now known as the Bureau, Putnam and Marshall County Health Department). She received inspiration at a summer camp called Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute which is sponsored by the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health.
While at camp, she contacted those who she knew were from her community and with the help of adult mentors Sydney Young, Dawn Conerton, and Ida Holper, she turned them into a group called Bureau-Putnam Power (BP Power). Since BP Power’s creation, the group has helped pass policies for smoke free parks, held recruitment events, and also held a popular mental health event where dozens of teens from throughout the Illinois Valley gathered to hear a motivational speaker de-stigmatize mental health issues.
“This group is truly amazing and we work very hard for a common goal. All of us are against substance abuse and believe the younger generation can make an impact on the community. Of course, it’s a challenge being from all over central Illinois, but we make it work and use that to our advantage by spreading our message farther. Recently, we’ve come up with some great plans for the future and I can’t wait to make my last year in this group count,” Lawley said.
“It’s a great pleasure working with Olivia. I’ve enjoyed watching her achieve this outstanding Gold Award from the Girl Scouts and she’s worked extremely hard. Through her work with CPASA and our youth leadership coalition, BP Power, Olivia has shown great compassion, dedication, and adaptability while working with youth and adults,” Conerton said.
“She has outstanding leadership qualities and I’m proud to say she’s now the president of BP Power. I know without a doubt this is only the beginning for her, as she’ll continue to lead and be a positive influence and role model in her community,” Conerton added.
Outside of her scouting and community work, Lawley has been playing the flute in her school band for eight years and has been a member of the Illinois Valley Flute Ensemble for three years.
Lawley is also athletically competitive and has ran track for six years. She’s been a member of the Putnam County girls varsity track team for three years and she’s been the team’s captain for more than a year.
“I’ve gone to state two years in the 300-meter hurdles and one year in the 100-meter hurdles. The girls on my team are my guiding light and I don’t know what I’d do without them,” she said.
She’s also the current president of the PCHS student council and a class officer, and she’s been a member of the theater department for three years and has been on the prom committee.
“It’s a busy life, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Lawley said.
She’s currently visiting different universities and plans to focus on a major concentrating on human services and social justice.
“I believe this falls in line with what I’ve learned from being a Girl Scout. I’m going to devote my life to helping others because I believe that’s what I was born to do. In the words of the Girl Scout promise, ‘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,’” she said.