Thursday, July 12, 2018

Her Girl Scout Cadette Silver Award Project in Progress: A Little Free Library for an Economically Disadvantaged Area

Will is in her final months as a Girl Scout Cadette, and also in her final weeks (at least, I DEARLY hope so!) of her Silver Award project.

To earn the Silver Award, the highest award that a Cadette can achieve, a Girl Scout Cadette must create, initiate, and complete a big project that fulfills a long-term need in the world around her. It must be sustainable, so that it works toward a permanent solution, not a temporary fix, and she must ideally spend at least 50 hours planning and producing this project. It's her project, so she must take the initiative and complete all the steps herself, doing lots of things that she's never done before and participating in the adult world at a level that she's likely never before experienced. An adult adviser guides her, offers advice, and helps her work through problems, but the project belongs to the girl.

It's a lot to tackle for a sixth-through-eighth-grader, but like much of the Girl Scout experience, it's experiential learning at its best.

Which is what I try to remember when mentoring Will's Silver Award project starts stressing me out!

Will did a lot of brainstorming for her Silver Award project a year ago (and let me tell you, a year has turned out to be just almost not enough time for this project! I am telling my current crop of Cadettes who bridged last fall that they need to start their projects this fall or by Christmas at the latest, giving them 9-12 more months than Will had), but had, as I think is fairly typical, a lot of trouble coming up with a project that inspired her. She really wanted to do something legislative, but I encouraged her to save that for a Gold Award project, as I doubted a year would be enough time for a project like that. Then she thought that maybe she'd do something for or with the national park system, since she loves Junior Ranger badges so much. She even did some networking at the GIRL 2017 convention, and a park ranger there gave her the contact info of a ranger who would be a good person to hear her ideas.

But you know what was also at GIRL 2017?

Well, NASA and Space Camp, and their program guide with its scholarship information is what got Will started down the path of earning an academic scholarship to Space Camp.

But you know what else was there?

The Little Free Library program! With its founder, reeling everyone in and speaking super enthusiastically and handing out fun patches!

The next time I asked Will to show me her brainstorming ideas, a Little Free Library for our town was at the top of her list, and I encouraged her to dig in and go for it.

Of course, just setting up a Little Free Library any old place isn't doing a lot to solve a "problem," so I encouraged Will to work through the steps to earn the 2018 Global Action Award, which is all about the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. As part of her badge work, I asked her to find a Sustainable Development Goal that could apply to her Little Free Library project. She realized that Quality Education was a good fit, and I helped her work out some specific ways in which a Little Free Library could improve access to quality education.

Using the Quality Education Sustainable Development Goal as her lens, Will decided that putting her Little Free Library in a public park would ensure the most access to reading material to the widest population.

Her next step, then, was to figure out who to consult about the possibility of putting a Little Free Library in a public park! We knew that there are a couple of parks in our town that already have Little Free Libraries (and that's okay, because a Cadette doesn't have to invent the entire wheel for her Silver Award project--even knowing it's already been done before, this is very much a big enough project for a Cadette!), so I Googled them to see if I could get any more information, and found an online article that covered one such library's groundbreaking, and included the names of the library's sponsors, the group that sponsored it, etc. I showed this article to Will and encouraged her to contact one of these people to ask them some questions about how they structured their process.

I would have asked one of the named sponsors, myself, but Will chose to instead email the author of the article, who happened to be the city's communications director and also the absolutely most perfect person to contact. That woman not only replied to Will promptly, but also found the exact person in the city administration whom Will should be dealing with, and connected the two by email!

I just need to say that I am sure that for any adult, working with a child who is a project leader must be a novel situation, and yet every adult that Will has worked with throughout this process has been just wonderful to her, treating her respectfully as an equal, but at the same time having a LOT of patience with the obvious learning curve she's experiencing in writing good business emails, summarizing and explaining her project, returning emails promptly with the relevant information, etc. People are really great!

I helped Will proofread her emails, and suggested edits, but Will was responsible for contacting the city official, explaining her project to him, and asking him for permission. He then asked for a meeting to hear her ideas in person, so then she had to prepare for that. What to say. What to wear! How to answer his questions! It was a big deal!

While this research and emailing was going on, Will also was working on the physical library, itself. She used the Little Free Library site to find a map of all of the Little Free Libraries in our town, and we took several trips to drive around and see as many of them as possible, often coming across unregistered Little Free Libraries and checking those out, as well. I encouraged Will to look at all the details of each Little Free Library, in particular its location, construction, installation, and special features, to decide what she thought would work best for her own build.

Here are some photos of her favorites:

Will liked those really unusual Little Free Libraries best--I mean, of course!--but decided that the following style would be the easiest to build, as well as the most practical for her purpose:

As you'll see, this was... ultimately not completely correct, but it IS a learning process!

Will researched plans for Little Free Libraries similar to what she liked, and when her grandparents came to visit to watch Syd dancing in The Nutcracker, her grandfather spent a day helping her build her first Little Free Library:

She stained it and sealed it, and it turned out just beautiful.

This, then, was the model that she brought to her meeting with our town's Parks and Rec official, and it was the model that he approved. Will told him what she was looking for in a location, and he helped her find a city park that serves an economically disadvantaged community, so that placing the Little Free Library there would hopefully increase the population's access to literature.

Parks and Rec took care of getting the site surveyed for utilities (call 411 before you dig!), and Will contacted the manager of the grounds crew and settled a time to meet them there and together install her Little Free Library. I invited the rest of our Girl Scout troop, and the girls all got a chance to help dig:

Will assisted in the installation itself:

She filled it with books, and it was perfect!

And from this moment on is where there started to be a LOT of problems.

Like, a LOT of problems.

Part of Will's commitment to Parks and Rec was that she would be the steward for this Little Free Library, so we drove back a few days later so she could check on it and restock, and we discovered that it had been vandalized. The back was cracked all the way across, with a boot print to show what had done it, and the Plexiglass from the front door was missing.

Will cut a new back, stained it, and mounted it over the broken one:

She cut new Plexiglass, which she will readily inform you is the thing that she hates doing the most in the world, and set it in with silicone caulk:

The next time we came back, the Plexiglass was gone again. We figured it had gotten "displaced" before the caulk could set, so this time Will unmounted the door, took it home, replaced the Plexiglass, sealed it, and then returned the door and remounted it.

We had a couple of good check-ups after that--

--and then came back one day to find that the entire door was broken off.

Will did a lot of troubleshooting for this repair, and eventually decided that a clear door was just not working. Instead, she cut a plywood door--

--painted it, and because she was worried that people wouldn't understand what was inside if they couldn't see, she stenciled a label on it. We drove her to install it...

...and it was too small.

So she made another door, same process, took her to install it...

...and it was too small, actually smaller than her first try, inspiring my new Word to the Wise, "Measure not, cut a lot!"

Will was SO frustrated by this time, but she DID measure so much more carefully, and cut so much more carefully, and (with some on-site sanding for one sticky-outy part), the third try fit.

There's been one good check-up since then, and I REALLY hope that this sturdier door solves the vandalism/rough usage/whatever is going on, because I have to tell you, I know it's not my project, but whenever I see that someone has damaged my precious baby's hard work, it makes me sick to my stomach.

I mean, at least let her reach the age of 14 before she loses all faith in humanity, you know?

Regardless, this project has so far taught this kid so much. She's got experience writing business emails and attending business meetings, and she better understands professional communication and what is required. She's a more confident builder. She's had more practice speaking with strangers. She has done a LOT of troubleshooting and problem-solving, sooooo much trouble-shooting and problem-solving, and she's learning how to deal gracefully with setbacks and disappointment, and how to just keep working towards a solution. She's seen a couple of kids squealing in delight at the contents of her newly-stocked library, so that was pretty great. And she's figuring out how to plan and handle and (hopefully) complete a very big, long-term project, which is something that will help her throughout her whole life.

Will still doesn't consider her Silver Award project complete at this point, which feels right to me, too. She's done a lot of work here, but most of it has been troubleshooting and problem-solving. That's all great--experiential learning!--but I think she needs to spend more time working on the big picture of her underlying goal of improving access to literature for underserved communities. Here are a few ideas that I've heard her toying with:
  1. Building and installing another Little Free Library in another park to reach more people.
  2. Holding a book drive to ensure a readier supply of books for the library, instead of relying on community exchange as one could do in a more affluent area where most people could be assumed to have excess books to share out.
  3. Hosting a community literacy fair at her library, perhaps involving the whole troop in fun activities and free books for community children.
  4. Hosting a Girl Scout workshop at the library, also with the troop to help with activities, but with the goal of doing service and garnering book donations, and rewarding the attendees with a fun patch.
  5. Writing instructions for constructing and installing a Little Free Library in an economically disadvantaged area, with her advice about hardening the library against vandalism or rough usage, ideally to help other people who want to do this same project. An alternative would be to host such a program at the public library or farmer's market.
  6. Writing lists of recommended books, all of which would be available at the public library, and providing instructions for how to obtain a library card.
I'm not sure what she'll settle on, but I am VERY much encouraging her to get whatever it is rolling by the end of the summer. She's still got a lot of paperwork to fill out and essays to write to apply for her Silver Award, and I want all of that stuff filed and recorded well before she bridges to Girl Scout Senior in October.

And then? On to Gold!

P.S. Come hang out with me on my Craft Knife Facebook page and I'll share more WIPs and Girl Scout hijinks with you!

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