MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Mahopac High School senior Victoria DelFavero was a shy kid. So, her parents encouraged her to join the Girl Scouts. She enrolled in the Brownies when she was about 7 years old.
“They wanted to put me in there because I wasn’t involved in a lot of things when I was younger,” DelFavero recalled. “Girl Scouts was a way for me to make friends and come out of my shell a little bit. Meeting new people is scary at that age. Now, I am still friends with all the girls.”
Now 17, DelFavero is poised to receive Girl Scouting’s Gold Award—the highest honor a Girl Scout can obtain and the equivalent of the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout designation.
And like an Eagle Scout, a Gold Award winner must envision and execute a project in order to receive the honor.
For her project, DelFavero decided to pay it forward. Her experience with scouting had taught her that talking to peers and mentors opens doors and improves socialization skills. She had watched her young brother struggle with similar issues.
“I saw that my brother was struggling a little academically and emotionally and he had this older senior friend who helped him a lot,” she said. “Through his transition [in school] he got a lot of comfort from him.
“I believe today that more kids are gravitating toward technology instead of interacting socially face to face so I wanted to give them the opportunity to socialize and talk, play some games, and learn some skills and have a safe place to express themselves,” she added.
So, DelFavero decided to create a program in which high school students mentor children in grades K-3. The program ran from May through November at the church the DelFaveros attend—Grace Lutheran in Yorktown Heights. It was so successful, DelFavero and the church hope to incorporate it into the church’s vacation bible school.
A survey matched the high school students with mentees of similar interests, such as sports or scouting.
“My friend does track and was talking to her mentee about how track goes and how the season goes for each of them,” DelFavero explained. “Some of the Girl Scouts talked about what their troops did, and we exchanged ideas.”
The mentees were recruited through the church and came from surrounding school districts such as Lakeland and Mahopac.
“I talked to a lot of parents there from different school districts and sent fliers to the Mahopac elementary schools,” DelFavero said. “We met every other Thursday as a group at the church’s fellowship hall.”
She said the parents of the mentees were more than pleased with the results.
“We had a lot of positive feedback,” DelFavero said. “After it was over, we sent out a survey to the parents and they wrote a lot of positive things, such as ‘they built a sense of community with our children,’ and ‘they (the children) always wanted to come back.’ Some even planned their vacations around it.”
Some of the mentees, DelFavero said, took a while to warm up to the program, but eventually embraced it.
“Some of them were shy,” she said. “There was a little boy who didn’t want to leave his mother and was a little timid because there were so many people there. He eventually warmed up and really enjoyed talking to his mentor.”
DelFavero said she needed supplies for the program—coloring books, sticker books, games to break the ice—and conducted a bake sale to raise funds. She raised nearly $500.
“My mom and I spent a lot of time doing research to figure what kind of questions to give both the mentors and mentees to see how they could cross paths,” DelFavero said. “My dad is a gym teacher in Mount Kisco and at his school they have a program like this, and he got me some of the questions that they use.”
DelFavero is working on the final report on the project to present to the Girl Scout Council this month. If all goes well, she will receive her Gold Award at a ceremony in March.
She already has the Silver Award, earned by creating a small library at her church.
“I gained my Silver Award by creating a library to help with the kids who might want to step back from technology and read a couple of books,” she said. “We built shelves and took over existing cubby spaces that they don’t use anymore. We have over 100 children’s books; some were donated, and some were bought with money we raised from another fundraiser. They are building an adult portion as well.”
DelFavero hasn’t decided which college she will attend in September but has narrowed it down to three: the University of Central Florida (Orlando), University of South Florida (Tampa) and Florida-Atlantic (Boca Raton) She’s been accepted at all of them. She’s still contemplating her field of study, which could determine which school she chooses.
“It’s amazing what the Girl Scout program has done for her,” says her mom, Lorraine. “She has blossomed. The Scout leaders here are fantastic for the community.”