How This Gold Award Girl Scout Connects Incarcerated Women With Their Families
Children everywhere need words of encouragement and love from their mothers, but kids with an incarcerated parent don't often get to hear their mother’s voice. To help solve this, Gold Award Girl Scout Isabella C. worked with Crossroads of New Mexico, an organization helping empower women emerging from incarceration to achieve safe, healthy, and fulfilling lives in the community for themselves and their children.
“My adviser and I came up with an idea that would allow these women to record encouraging messages to their loved ones, and then those messages would be inserted into a teddy bear,” the 17-year-old Albuquerque native tells CircleAround. “This helps families stay connected by allowing the children to hear and feel the warmth of their loved ones' voices as the two prepare to reconnect.”
The work Isabella did to support Crossroads of New Mexico, specifically its family reunification program, earned her the Gold Award — one of the highest honors a Girl Scout can receive. To achieve such a goal, Isabella worked with Dalilah Naranjo, the community engagement coordinator at Crossroads and Isabella’s Gold Award adviser and mentor.
Isabella — a member of Troop 10574 and part of the Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails council — tells CircleAround that she was especially interested in family reunification after seeing the impact of COVID-19, which caused many women in the program to be under strict quarantine, to be away from their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
“I have been working with Crossroads since I was a Brownie in Girl Scouts,” says Isabella. The organization’s services include transitional housing and relocation support, peer mentoring, job programs, skill-building, and a variety of fundraising and donation opportunities to help women build new lives. “Every step taken by these women to reunify with their children helps today's youth and lessens the likelihood of recidivism.”
Through working with Crossroads, Isabella learned how to brainstorm ideas with community leaders, figure out logistics like how to get recordings back and forth from Crossroads members, and how to project manage.
On providing Gold Award mentorship to Isabella, Naranjo says, “Supporting Isabella on this project meant the opportunity to play even a small role in making the lives of our community members better. Despite the challenges we faced with COVID and other mishaps at our location, she never stopped pushing.
“Something as simple as providing the opportunity and resources for mothers to send their children a stuffed bear during the holidays can make all the difference in the world for families trying to reunite. These small gestures of love between communities give people hope, and that spark of hope can change the world,” Naranjo adds.
"Being around strong women leaders meant the world to me throughout the Gold Award journey. Despite the challenges, I learned how to persevere to be able to bring my Gold Award project to life because I knew these families were counting on me."
Because the pandemic impacted traditional methods of Girl Scout fundraising — like gift wrapping for the holidays or setting up a pancake breakfast — Isabella reached out to Rebecca Latham, the CEO of Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails, to request permission to fundraise online.
“To my surprise, this had never been done in our local council,” Isabella says. “She was supportive of my Gold Award project proposal, took my request seriously, researched with her team, and a new avenue of fundraising was approved.”
With this fundraising, Isabella could help provide Pavilions — one of Crossroads’ live-in transitional housing programs — with a basketball goal and foosball table. She could also distribute care packages around the holidays that included items like scarves, activity books and treats, collect hundreds of books for children and families, and find ways to donate cleaning and hygiene supplies.
“Being around strong women leaders meant the world to me throughout the Gold Award journey. Despite the challenges, I learned how to persevere to be able to bring my Gold Award project to life because I knew these families were counting on me,” she explains.
Isabella’s project also inspired others, including her Gold Award adviser. “There are youth in this world that see, understand, and want to address the very big issues we collectively face,” Naranjo tells CircleAround. “We can lean on one another, believe that things can be different, and take steps together to manifest a more compassionate future.”
Isabella is learning from an early age that she is capable of making these changes as well. “Women and girls are a lot stronger than we think,” Isabella says. “Even without support, you alone have a ton of power to make a difference. If you have an idea for change, you can make it happen, and it will greatly benefit you personally and your community.”
As she navigates the start of a new school year, Isabella has her sights set on earning a degree in sports psychology. She’d love to work for an NFL team and be a positive role model for little girls, proving women can have a successful career in sports, and that women belong in sports as well.
“The best thing that women and girls can do to work toward equality for all, and inclusion is just to remember that we have a voice, so use it,” Isabella strongly advises. “It is okay to make your voice heard, be loud and opinionated. In fact, sometimes the only way women are heard is if we make our presence known. It may not always be easy, but every time we make our voices heard is a victory.”
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