Locals scouts strike 'Gold' in community service
Kiernan Black wrote a children's book, "Margaret Feeney Had a Farm," about a Fairfield farmer who gathers excess produce from around the state and gives to the needy.
Both community-service projects have earned the two high school juniors the Girl Scouts Gold Star Award -- the organization's highest honor, equivalent to Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts.
Community service projects are the capstones of both the Gold Award and Eagle honors, with one major difference.
"The Girl Scouts' project is about sustainability and how (it) will continue when they're at (college) or no longer in Scouts, while the Eagle Scout's project is usually a one-time event," said Roisin Black, Kiernan's mother and the girls' troop leader.
The two Fairfield girls attend the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy, Lauralton Hall in Milford and are members of troop 32472, which meets at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School.
The troop currently has five members, and Guzzi and Kiernan Black bring to three the number with Gold Awards -- 60 percent of the troop. The other is Erin McCurley, who received the Gold Award last year.
Nationally, about 5 percent of Scouts earn the Gold Award, according to the Girl Scouts of America's website.
Community service projects typically take months to complete and require more than 500 hours of work. It is recommended that Scouts spend at least 80 hours on each of nine phases.
The steps include: To identify an issue, investigate it thoroughly, get help and build a team, create a plan, present the plan, gather feedback, take action, educate and inspire others.
The real Mrs. Feeney
Kiernan Black's book was about Margaret Feeney's "farm" in Fairfield. The farm in reality was a vegetable garden in Feeney's back yard, but in the book, the woman gives her ailing father fruits and vegetables she has grown to make him feel better.
As word about what her produce had done for her father spread, friends, family, and neighbors, started asking Feeney for things from her garden.
Feeney then went to grocery stores and bigger farms around Connecticut and asked for extra produce they didn't need to help feed the needy. According to the book, Feeney helped out those in need around the state.
"I ended up working with farms throughout Connecticut gleaning their excess produce and donating it to food shelters and food banks throughout the area," Feeney said. "Right now, I'm still active in the community but don't grow anything."
Kiernan Black taught classes at a few locations in Fairfield and Bridgeport on healthy eating and where to get healthy foods, such as local farmers markets. She said her classes were attended by both parents and kids, most of them low-income families.
"Some of the kids never saw and didn't know some of these fruits and vegetables were," Kiernan Black said. "A lot of the kids asked `is a zucchini really purple,' and were really surprised because they've never seen these (fruits and vegetables) before. A lot of their vegetable experience is with just what comes in a can."
Kiernan Black also demonstrated how to use some of them in recipes that are in the back of her book. She also had kids and parents participate in making "ants on a log" (celery stuffed with peanut butter and topped with raisins).
Feeney attended some of the classes, too, proving to attendees that the character in the story was a real person.
"She came to some of the classes with me, and it was good for them to see that she was real and not just a character in my book," Kiernan said.
The book sells for about $6 and is available through Amazon.com. All profits from sales benefit Caroline House, an education center for low-income women and children in Bridgeport.
It was in a coffee shop, not a garden, where the Blacks met Feeney.
The Blacks were in a Starbucks talking about sustainability and Kiernan's project. Feeney had overheard them, approached and said, "That's what I do," pointing to her shirt, which had "Feeney Farm" printed on the front.
Their involvement and the book followed.
"Kiernan is a bright, compassionate and empathetic individual whose book will increase people's awareness about healthy eating as it relates to their overall well-being," Feeney said. "Her book is engaging and creative, and I'm ultimately honored to have been part of her project. I expect this to be the first of many great accomplishments from Kiernan and am excited to see what she puts her mind to next."
Guzzi, meanwhile, was interested in recycling -- particularly materials found around the house.
"I used materials you don't normally think about recycling. Like puzzle pieces, old T-shirts, and hangers," Guzzi said.
She taught classes at the Wakeman Boys and Girls Club on Friday afternoons, and since they were open to anyone at the club, participation fluctuated from week to week, Guzzi said.
Still, Wakeman was impressed.
"The classes were such a success they decided to implement the classes into their program for next year," Guzzi said. "A lot of the activities, like making old shirts into bracelets, were such a hit we ended up doing them twice."
Even before she began teaching classes, Guzzi was an officer in Wakeman's Keystone Club, a leadership-development program for teenagers, and had a strong presence there, according to Maria Cimina, Wakeman's director of art and education programs.
"Ann Marie was an incredible asset and a great presence. Kids enjoyed it (the class), it taught them (the students) to think outside the box and taught them about the materials they were using. Ann Marie's classes will definitely be implemented into our program," Cimina said.
Awards due in June
Kiernan Black and Guzzi, will be officially pinned with the Gold Award at a ceremony in Hartford in June, Rosin Black said.
"It is not a popular pastime to go through high school as a Girl Scout nowadays, which is really a shame," she said. "There are so many opportunities afforded them in leadership, service and personal growth that they can take advantage of."
Investing more than 500 hours -- the equivalent of more than 12 40-hour work weeks -- in a single project requires an extraordinary commitment.
"The project implementation requires a lot of time, which quite frankly, as a high school student studying and involved in multiple activities/sports is the hardest part of all," the troop leader said. "That is why so many can not take it on -- or do not finish."
Guzzi and Kiernan Black each have a year of high school left. Both said they are looking at colleges but haven't yet determined where they'd like to go or what they'd like to study.