To pursue a Gold Award in the Girl Scouts, a senior Scout must choose a project that highlights how she is making a difference in the world and must demonstrate how her actions will impact the community and beyond. 

For Maeve McGroary, a rising junior at John Jay High School and a Girl Scout since kindergarten, the decision about what issue to choose for this highly regarded recognition came fairly easily, given her lifetime experience with mixed martial arts. 

“I started thinking about it in ninth grade; I was going over a lot of different things I could be doing,” Maeve said. “But then I decided to do self-defense—I am a third-degree black belt in taekwondo and I love helping out the community.”

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What eventually came together for the driven Troop 2179 Scout Ambassador (the top level for Girl Scouts in 11th and 12th grade) was an effort to teach young people how to physically defend themselves, particularly in situations involving unhealthy relationships. She filmed a video that shows how to protect oneself against wrist grabs, punches, chokes, bear hugs and double arm grabs. In addition, she has taught these methods via Zoom to a variety of ages and has created a pamphlet about recognizing what an unhealthy relationship looks like. 

Maeve was thinking about how to help high schoolers and others who might experience these circumstances and wanted to prepare them if they face violence.

“I wanted to teach people how to defend themselves, especially people who are going off to college—they may be going somewhere they don’t know, into communities where they don’t know which parts are the safest spaces or which parts they probably shouldn’t go,” she said. 

In her video, Maeve cites information issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has called dating violence an “epidemic” and one of the most dangerous threats to teens’ lives. She then gives step-by-step instructions on how to react, defend and get out of specific types of physical altercations.

As the pandemic unfolded, Maeve said she added what she calls “self-defense for the immune system” to her award project by sewing masks—and has donated over 200 reusable ones to a Northern Westchester hospital clinic. 
With this effort, she has almost completed the 80 hours of work that is required to earn a Gold Award, the highest achievement for a Girl Scout. 

Besides being a Girl Scout, Maeve plays field hockey and has been part of the track team. She also is a proud member of the high school club called Students for KEEP (Katonah Education Exchange Program), whose mission is to keep girls in school. Maeve said being a part this endeavor has increased her commitment to helping young people learn how to protect themselves.

“In the club, we help girls in Kenya go to school, but also a big part of that is to keep them safe, so I thought it would be cool to combine these two interests I had when thinking about my project,” she said. 

Teaching classes and speaking out about these issues as the culminating chapter of her journey with Scouting has had a profound impact on Maeve in ways she hadn’t expected. 

“My Gold Award has pushed me to be more confident and talk to a lot of people—that is what the Girl Scouts have done for me: helped me get a little bit out of my comfort zone, but still enjoy all that I do.”