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Student improves community while working toward goal

Evelyn Okal, a junior at River Falls High School, works on making a small library as part of her Girl Scout's Gold Award. Submitted photo1 / 2
Evelyn Okal, a junior at River Falls High School, with the help of friends and leaders at Camp St. Croix, the YMCA Camp in Hudson, renovated the Peace Pole site meeting area. The site now has an accessible path with benches and a fire ring for people to use. Submitted photo2 / 2

Impacting the community and helping out is exactly what the Girl Scouts are preparing young women to do.

River Falls High School Junior Evelyn Okal has been in Girls Scouts since she was 5 years old. She said the Girl Scouts has taught her to be part of the community and has shown her how to make a difference.

In the spring, she is hoping to receive the Girl Scout Gold Award for her contribution to the community. Prior to being able to apply for this award, she first had to receive the Bronze and Silver awards.

In sixth grade, Okal completed her Bronze Award which was a group project. For this, she and other girls in the troop earned their babysitting certificates and volunteered their time to babysit.

"For the Bronze Award, we babysat during a parent/teacher meeting at the local Montessori and later at UW-RF during the Heartland Montessori fundraiser," Okal said.

After the Bronze Award, Okal completed her Silver Award in eighth grade with Kaye Anderson and Miranda Kieren. For this award, each girl had to put in 50 hours of time on their project. They put together a bag that contained fabric books and a DVD they created that was given to the Birth to Three Program. This program, Okal said, aids children with developmental disorders ranging from physical to cognitive learning.

"These bags contained things to help with improving speech and communication, as well as sensory comfort to the kids involved with the program," Okal said.

These previous awards prepared Okal for her Gold Award. The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest award in Girl Scouts. To complete the award, Okal had to find a project that would benefit the community and spend at least 80 hours of her own time working on it.

Her project was to renovate the meeting spot at Camp St. Croix, the YMCA Camp in Hudson. She said she had been part of the Leadership Development Program at the camp the previous two years and she wanted to do something to give back to the Camp.

When Okal was looking for a project, she went to the camp director and asked if there were projects that could benefit the camp. They suggested she make the meeting place more accessible to everyone.

"I thought it would be a great way to give back to the camp I love so much," Okal said.

She renovated and improved the Peace Pole site at Camp St. Croix to make it more accessible and a better meeting place for campers. She said "prior to the project all it had was a triangle of decaying wood, full of some sun-deprived flowers around the Peace Pole."

However, Okal with the help of Amy Schneider and Bob Jones, was able to transform the meeting area. As part of the project Okal had to organize the project and get people to help her with the work. She said with the help of Schneider, Jones and many others who provided their time, the project was a success.

"Now, [the meeting area] has a far larger area due to clearing buckthorn, a wood-bordered gravel path and a wood-bordered sitting area with a bench at the end of the path," Okal said. "Above the path, at the old site of the peace pole, there's an unofficial little free library, five benches, a fire ring and pavers."

Improving the meeting area was something the YMCA had wanted to do for Camp St. Croix and Okal was glad she could be part of the project and help get it completed.

"[YMCA was] planning on doing something similar, this [Okal organizing project] was a way to make it happen," Okal said. "My favorite part was seeing the finished project for first time."