LIVINGSTON, NJ — When a 17-year-old Livingston resident discovered that even the simplest of toys can help sooth shelter animals, many of which have likely been mistreated and have difficulty trusting humans, she decided to work with students from her former elementary school to make as many pet toys as possible for the Livingston Animal Center and the Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter.

Carolina Lopez, a senior at Livingston High School, explained that toys provide the mental stimulation and comfort that shelter animals need to relax in their environment. As a recipient of the Girls Scouts Gold Award, which is the most prestigious award that a Girl Scout can earn, Lopez decided to research potential solutions to this problem as part of her Gold Award Take Action Project and developed a plan to raise awareness about the necessities of animal shelters, to improve the quality of life for shelter animals, to increase adoption rates and to promote community service among school-aged children.

“I was inspired by the hard work that animal shelter workers and volunteers do by helping previously-domesticated animals adapt to life without their owners,” said Lopez, who delivered a lesson plan to Collins Elementary School in order to teach the students how to create sparkly pompom cat toys and braided fetch toys for dogs that have since been distributed between the two shelters.

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She also created similar instructional sheets for the Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter so that others can learn how to create these toys, and instructions were given to some Livingston teachers as well for future class activities.

In addition to educating the community about the shelters in order to increase support, Lopez also said one of her main goals is to inspire the next generation of volunteers.

“Through research, I learned that early involvement in volunteer service makes young people more likely to keep helping the community as adults,” she said. “By letting children have fun in creating toys now, they are likely to become involved in their community in bigger ways as adults.”

Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey (GSHNJ) chief executive officer Natasha Hemmings said Lopez’s Gold Award project “is exciting because it not only helps the shelter animals,” but also “educates younger students on the rewarding benefits” of helping their community.

“Carolina has taken the skills she’s learned by being a Girl Scout and perfectly applied them to make the world a little brighter,” said Hemmings.

As the pinnacle of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, the Gold Award recognizes girls who develop sustainable solutions for problems that the world is facing.

Lopez, a 12-year member of GSHNJ Troop 32030, described the Girl Scout Leadership Experience as a special place where girls are constantly learning new strengths, lessons and skills. The Gold Award is considered the pinnacle of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, recognizing girls who develop sustainable solutions for problems facing the world today.

“There is always more to learn when you’re a Girl Scout, and the experiences are certainly one of a kind,” said Lopez.