Drawing on her love of literature, Jessica Sheptin, a senior at John Jay High School, transformed her passion for reading into a community project that recently earned her the Girl Scouts’ highest honor — the Gold Award.
According to the Gold Award project requirements, the award is given to high school Girl Scouts who take on community-engaging projects that can change the world — even if it is just a small corner of it.
Jessica, a Goldens Bridge resident, created a weekly book club at the Mt. Kisco Library for third grade through fifth grade girls, reading books like It’s Raining Cupcakes, Superfudge, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Ivy and Bean. She chose a reading group as her project for a number of reasons, including a passion for working with children, she said.
“Because reading is such a big part of my life, I wanted to share this passion with children and influence them to read more,” Jessica said. “Many children, especially those from lower socio-economic areas, do not have access to books, have decoding and comprehension difficulties (especially if English is a second language), and sometimes their parents do not encourage reading in the home.”
Jessica’s love of helping others is nothing new; before her Gold Award project she was teaching fourth grade students
The most rewarding part of her project was the positive impact she noticed on her students’ attitudes toward reading and the great discussions she and the girls would have at their meetings, she said.
“The girls seemed to light up when given the chance to voice their opinions and make comments about what we had read,” Jessica said. “I was thrilled that they wanted to read ahead and try and find out what would happen next. I was also excited to have made a positive impact on their reading habits.”
Jessica recently received a call from the mother of one of the girls from her summer book club (which ran twice a week) who wanted to know if the club would still be running in January. The woman’s daughter was unable to attend his past fall and was eager to rejoin the club.
“She said that her daughter loved coming to the club so much that now her friends wanted to come, too!” Jessica said.
This was especially exciting for Jessica, as one of the few challenges she had with the project was attendance.
“Although I hung up signs around Mt. Kisco and the librarians posted signs in the library, few students originally signed up,” she said.
Looking to the future
If she was to re-do the project, Jessica said, she would have used Neighbors Link, an organization that provides education and employment opportunities to immigrant families.
She would have also asked local elementary school librarians to tell their students about the book club, advice she will hand down as she prepares to encourage a younger Girl Scout to carry on the project, she said.
One of the Gold Award project’s requirements is that the project must have the ability to be carried on beyond the participation of the Girl Scout.
“Another way that my project will be sustained is through the continued interest in reading and love of books that I hopefully instilled in the girls that attended my book club,” Jessica said.
There was so much positive feedback from her book club, she said, that she plans to continue her involvement in community projects while she pursues a degree in education after her high school graduation in the spring of 2013.
A Girl Scout for more than 11 years, Jessica plans to continue her long history of volunteering by becoming a Girl Scout Ambassador, the Girl Scouts’ highest rank.
“I have been involved in everything from clothing drives for the impoverished in New Rochelle and baking cookies for residents at a local senior center to making sandwiches for inmates at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and assisting at the annual Onatru Farm Library Fair,” she said. “It is very important and fulfilling to me to be involved in my community and provide support to those in need.”