Girl Scout earns Gold Award for work with citizens in golden years
LuLu Gaitan became a Girl Scout 12 years ago with a group of friends, and her mom served as the troop leader. The other girls stopped attending meetings as they went to junior high and then high school.
But even as her friends left the troop, LuLu increased her participation.
She wanted to achieve the Gold Award, which is the Girl Scout equivalent to an Eagle Scout.
To earn the honor, she created her project “Friendship Has No Age,” where she led a group of teenagers in monthly activities at the memory care unit in Vista Del Monte, a retirement community in Santa Barbara.
As a kid, LuLu visited her elderly neighbor’s house to play games after school. They formed a bond, and it inspired her to create a group dedicated to maintaining friendships with elders.
Her group, TeenAngels, made crafts, played bingo and chatted with the community members.
“You could really see the benefit that they got from the interaction and also learning they had to really think about what they were doing and their motor development,” she said.
LuLu tried to bring crafts the elders could understand and enjoy. Sometimes, a game wasn’t a hit, but she usually saw them get excited when they saw the activity.
“Some of them would perk up and have this big smile. And it was just like that moment of getting them able to interact and getting them out really warms your heart and then also shows me that I am making a difference in them,” LuLu said. “That really made it worthwhile, but also just enjoyable to go there every month.”
She continued to lead activities even when COVID-19 barred her from visiting in person. TeenAngels made video calls to the facilities’ caregivers, and elders could see them on a TV screen.
“They were kind of confused with what was happening sometimes, but that didn’t stop them from having a good time,” LuLu said.
Now, LuLu attends San Diego State University, but another TeenAngel is carrying on the program.
LuLu said her experiences helped her receive multiple scholarships and led her to pledge to a sorority that works with Girl Scouts.
“With the project and Girl Scouts in general, a lot of it was just like, I found that if I put my mind to something like, I can accomplish it,” she said. “And also just knowing that it’s not always gonna go your way; it’s not going to be perfect, and that’s okay.”
The project almost didn’t happen. She struggled to find a retirement home to partner with, and her first project mentor quit.
“I saw that growth where she took it on and really made it her own project. It’s a nice accomplishment,” her mom, Michelle Gaitan, said.
Mrs. Gaitan was the troop leader but tried to let LuLu work on her own throughout her time in Girl Scouts.
“Sometimes it’s hard as the mom to let go because I’m in my role as leader, but I really felt that as she got older, she really took charge of the activities,” Mrs. Gaitan said.
LuLu led Girl Scout camps during summer breaks, even directing a virtual day camp this summer. Her friends worked retail jobs to make extra money, but she wanted to do something to help her become a teacher someday.
During her junior year at San Marcos High School, she learned about career preparedness in a six-week training program with Partners in Education. The organization helped her apply for an internship with the Santa Barbara Humane Society, where she ran a summer camp.
“She’s very very goal oriented and very future oriented. At her age, I definitely wasn’t thinking that way,” her mom said. “And she’s always got a goal moving forward.”
So now, with a Gold Award and experience thinking on her feet, LuLu studying to become a teacher like she’s always wanted.