[Times photos: Kinfay Moroti]
To earn her Gold Award from the Girl Scouts, Heather Samuelson, 18, solicited companies and individuals to donate more than 100 used computers, which were refurbished and loaded with educational software and given to children who otherwise would not have computer access.
By MIMI RICH
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 11, 2002
How many times have you had to answer that FCAT writing prompt, "Who inspires you most, and why?"
A Palm Harbor University High senior's focus on community has brought her gold from the Girl Scouts and made her a national Young Woman of Distinction.
You run through the list of usual suspects: mom or dad or grandparent or teacher or maybe the president, who will it be this year? Next time I come across that question, though, I know whom I would pick.
Heather Samuelson is a 17-year-old senior at Palm Harbor University High in the International Baccalaureate program. Although the IB is a demanding program it does not keep Heather from an impressive number of volunteer activities. She has been a Girl Scout since she was in kindergarten, she is a Hospice volunteer and she sits on youth committees for the Pinellas County Commission and Juvenile Welfare Board.
Heather has been accepted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of South Florida and is waiting to hear from other schools before she makes a decision about where to go to college. She wants to study biomedical research.
Heather is inspirational, no doubt about it. Last year she received the Girl Scouts' highest recognition, the Gold Award. Only one percent of all Girl Scouts achieve this status. It is awarded to Senior Girl Scouts who combine their leadership skills, career interests, and personal values to meet a specific need in their community.
To earn her Gold Award, Heather embarked on a mission two years ago to obtain used computers, refurbish and load them with educational programs and give them to children who otherwise would not have computer access. Heather convinced individuals and businesses to donate more than 100 computers to her project, which she calls Technology Education Assisting Children in the Home, or TEACH. Forty-five of the computers went to children's homes and the rest went to organizations and agencies that serve children. Before she graduates, Heather hopes the program will be adopted by one of the high school's clubs or organizations so that it might continue. "I still have a few in my garage," Heather says.
Heathers father, Jim Samuelson, created his own Gold Award on his computer to display next to his daughters Girl Scout photo. My family gives me all the support I need, Heather says.
On Tuesday, which is the 90th birthday of Girl Scouts of the USA, Heather will be in Washington for an even more distinguished honor. She is one of 10 Girl Scouts from around the nation to receive a Young Women of Distinction award for her extraordinary community service. The teenagers will join 10 adult women who will be recognized as National Women of Distinction, including fashion designer Vera Wang and former Cabinet Secretary and Red Cross president Elizabeth Dole. Heather's escort in Washington will be Esmeralda Santiago, a Puerto Rican writer.
The honorees are scheduled to meet U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court and a former Girl Scout. "I am very honored," Heather says, to have such an opportunity.
The week after Heather returns from Washington, she'll get a chance to rub elbows with some more distinguished women. On March 19, former NASA astronaut Sally Ride, the first female astronaut in space, will be the keynote speaker at a luncheon honoring the Girl Scouts of Suncoast Council's local Women of Distinction: Maureen Rorech Dunkel, Adrienne Garcia, Marion Rich and Amy Shimberg. The women will be recognized for their significant contributions to the community.
The luncheon will be at noon at A La Carte Event Pavilion, 4050 Dana Shores Drive in Tampa. Tickets are $50 per person and can be purchased by calling 813-281-4475, ext. 247.
With so many distinguished women around, too bad that FCAT question isn't multiple choice. I'd choose "all of the above!"
- Mimi Rich, 11 and a Girl Scout, is in the sixth grade at Safety Harbor Middle School. Her mother, Marion, is being honored next week as a Girl Scouts of Suncoast Council Woman of Distinction.
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