MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Olivia Conlin has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten. Now, her long scouting career is about to be crowned with the highest of honors—the Gold Award. Similar to the Eagle Scout designation for Boy Scouts, the Gold Award is the highest achievement within the Girl Scouts of the USA, earned by Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts. Only 5.4 percent of eligible Girl Scouts successfully earn the Gold Award.
Conlin, who graduated from Mahopac High School last month and will be heading off to Syracuse University this fall where she will major in engineering, said she’s had her eye on the Gold Award from the very beginning.
“It was always a longtime goal,” she said. “I thought it would be kind of cool to get my Gold Award.”
Conlin’s older sister had joined the Girl Scouts at an early age, so Conlin followed in her footsteps. Her mom eventually became a troop leader.
To earn a Gold Award, Scouts must plan and implement a project inspired by a community issue that they care about. Conlin said she began thinking about her project as far back as 10th grade. One day, last fall, while returning on a bus ride from a basketball game in East Fishkill, she found her inspiration.
On the utility poles along the streets of East Fishkill, Conlin noticed large banners that honored individual military veterans. She was impressed and wanted to bring the idea to Mahopac.
“My grandfather is a veteran and I thought it was a great idea, so I called the town hall up there and asked a lot of questions,” she said. “They pointed me in the right direction.”
A couple of years ago, Conlin was working as a volunteer at the Putnam Golf Course in Mahopac during the annual Thanksgiving dinner for veterans, sponsored in part by Town Councilwoman Suzi McDonough. She approached McDonough with the banner idea and the councilwoman immediately signed on to be Conlin’s project advisor. McDonough invited Conlin back last year to be a guest speaker and tell the veterans about her project.
“It was a pleasure working with Olivia on this very important project,” McDonough said. “I can’t wait to see the banners up throughout the town showing support for our hometown heroes.”
In fact, “hometown heroes” is kind of the name of the project. Conlin created a website, ourhometownheroes.us, where people can go to purchase a banner.
The weatherproof banners are 30-by-60 inches and will depict the veteran and feature a blue star if they fought in combat or a gold star if they died. It will also have the vet’s name and rank and branch of the military in which they served, as well as the name of the sponsor. They will be displayed from Memorial Day to Veterans Day. The town highway department, which has already placed the brackets on the poles, will install and remove the banners. The sponsorship fee is $175.
Conlin shopped around to find a graphics company and wound up choosing TC Graphics in Mahopac. More information and the forms to sponsor a banner can be found on the website.
Conlin, who played soccer, basketball and lacrosse, as well as violin in the high school orchestra, said she hopes to receive the Gold Award this December if everything goes as planned.
She was also the Class of 2020 student government (MOST) president. Among her myriad duties as president, she oversaw several fundraising projects, which proved to be good practice for her Gold Award campaign.
Conlin said she was grateful to highway superintendent Mike Simone who helped install the banner brackets, as well as Karl Rhodes and Art Hanley of the Putnam County Veterans Agency, who helped spread the word about the project. She said Jim Gosford of the American Legion and Chris Long of the VFW were instrumental as well in helping to launch the effort.
As the Gold Award project winds down, Conlin is now focused on her impending academic journey at Syracuse University. While the pandemic has caused an air of uncertainty, Conlin said she will be attending the school in person. Some classes, though, depending on their size, will be held remotely via the internet.
“I am definitely excited about it,” she said.
As Conlin heads off to the next chapter in her life, she will now leave behind a legacy that Mahopac veterans and their families, and the community at large, can cherish for years to come.