Alison Jaruzelski, a junior at Westfield High School, received her Girl Scout Gold Award at the Girl Scouts Heart of NJ recognition ceremony on May 3. The highest honor in Girl Scouts, the Gold Award requires a minimum of 80 hours of researching, planning and executing a project that fulfills a community or national need.

Jaruzelski completed her Gold Award project with Roots & Wings, a non-profit organization that provides housing and transitional support to teens aging out of the foster care system. Each year, more than 600 young adults age out of the foster care system in New Jersey and are left homeless and without the education or life skills needed to live independently. Roots & Wings provides safe housing and counseling to these teens, enabling them to complete their schooling and find employment on their way to self-sufficiency.

For her project, Jaruzelski was responsible for collecting donations for and setting up the first apartment leased by Roots & Wings in Union County. She hosted an apartment-warming shower for kitchen and bath accessories, bed linens and school supplies. Fifty people attended the event at First Congregational Church last fall, which also served to raise awareness of the organization.

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She was also charged with finding furniture for the two-bedroom apartment, including beds, desks, dressers, bookcases, lamps, kitchen table and chairs. She solicited donations of gently used furniture through online registries and social media.  Additionally, she wrote letters seeking donations of items that had to be in new condition, including mattresses and carpeting. Ron Shovlin of Shovlin Mattress Factory in Fanwood and Ben Slack of Major Mills in Clark were especially generous in contributing these key items.

After all the donations were gathered, the set-up of the apartment was accomplished in less than one week from the time the keys were received until the first resident moved in. Jaruzelski was responsible for coordinating all the volunteers to help move, unpack and assemble all the furnishings. The first two clients moved into the newly completed apartment last November.

As the final piece of her project, Jaruzelski compiled an apartment manual, including furnishing checklists, solicitation letters, photographs and a contact list of resources. The manual is now used by Roots & Wings as the template for setting up their future apartments.

“In spite of all the work, it was very gratifying for me to be able to help other teens in my own community who have not had the benefits of a secure family life that so many of us take for granted,” said Ms. Jaruzelski. “Everyone I contacted about this project was so enthusiastic and so generous with their time and donations. I am especially grateful to the members of Roots & Wings Union County who devoted so much effort to help me move in and set up the apartment over one very busy weekend.”

Jaruzelski has been a member of Girl Scout troop 40769 since kindergarten.Her mentor for the project was Wendy Masteller, a Roots & Wings board member and former science teacher at Roosevelt Intermediate School. For further information about Roots & Wings, contact www.rootsandwingsnj.org.