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2019 Jun

A Girl on a Mission

When kids volunteer, they learn to put others first.

Today, one in five teens have a diagnosable mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety. Kaylee Keegan, 17, a Girl Scout who lives in Chesapeake, used to be one of those teens. She knows all too well what it’s like to have a mental illness and the labels attached. Having personal experience with a mental illness and struggling with the stigma that surrounds it motivated Kaylee to take action to change how teens view mental illness.         

“Most people don’t know that one in five youth have a diagnosable mental illness,” she explained. “A lot of teens I know who are experiencing issues with what might be mental illness aren’t getting help because they don’t know enough about it and how to get help. They need information they can understand, and they need to be able to share this with their families.”

Increased Suicide Rates for Teens

Mental Health Problems May Be To Blame

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According to national reports, 37 percent of teens with a mental health condition age 14 and older drop out of school. More alarming, suicide stemming from mental illness is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24 and include substance abuse and eating disorders.

“I didn’t know about these facts until I began struggling with depression and anxiety,” Kaylee said. “I felt I had nowhere to turn or any way to ask for help because of the stigma around mental illness, especially among teens.”

Professionals who treat mental illness say identifying the problem and diagnosing teenagers can be difficult. That’s because many teens are moody and emotional during this time of dramatic physical and mental changes. However, mental illness in teens involves behavioral and mood changes that are far more extreme than average.

While tackling the stigma surrounding mental illness may seem insurmountable, Kaylee says having a support system through Girl Scouts—her troop leader and a project consultant on hand—made it reachable for her.

This type of support can be seen throughout the Girl Scout program. Girls as young as five years old are involved in community service and work hand-in-hand with adult volunteers. Picking up litter in a park, planting trees, holding food drives, or making toys for animal shelters can all be starting places until a Girl Scout accepts more responsibility to work on a complicated issue that she feels passionate about. Ultimately, the goal is to have a girl identify an issue and create a project plan as part of earning her Gold Award.

Kaylee Keegan Chose To Make a Difference

She Was Awarded a Gold Award Pin For Her Service

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This year, the local Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast recognized 27 teen girls who planned and carried out sustainable community service projects of at least 80 hours each. At a recent celebration held at Dominion Enterprises in Norfolk, which was hosted by Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast, each girl was presented a Gold Award pin, the highest award a girl may earn.

Together, these girls gave more than 2,160 hours of volunteer time. Multiply that by $23.45, the value of one hour of volunteer service, and the total of their gift to our communities was $50,652. An impressive accomplishment, which impacted a lot of lives.

“I was 9 years old and in 4th grade when I became a Girl Scout,” Kaylee said. “I hadn’t found my thing yet. I had tried dancing, tumbling, soccer, and softball. None were really good fits for me. My friends who were Girl Scouts always talked about the fun they had and how good they felt about helping in the community, so I gave it a try.”

Since then, Kaylee has had a lot of life-changing experiences and been involved in more than a dozen community service projects that have helped her earn badges and other awards. She says earning the prestigious Girl Scout Gold Award has been the most memorable and one that required the most commitment and work.  

Teen-Friendly Mental Health Pamphlets

Helping Teens Get Help for Themselves—or a Friend

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Using resources obtained from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Kaylee designed five mental health pamphlets that were teen friendly. She displayed the pamphlets on shelves that she built. Kaylee then placed these shelves in several school libraries and hung posters she had made.

She says the resources are discreetly displayed, yet easily accessible. Not content with stopping there, Kaylee also created audio and video public service announcements that were used by the schools. She’s proud of the outcome, a video with heart that reminds those suffering that they are not alone. Both the video and the print pamphlets offer some common facts and identify some of the warning signs.

“I was a girl on a mission,” she said. “I wanted to make sure students had what they needed to get help or help for a friend. Even if a student doesn’t need help today, they can learn something about the signs of mental illness and when to get help. The greatest outcome I can hope for from my project is to be able to save one life.”

What Is the Value of Volunteering?

Communities Benefit & So Do Volunteers

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Kaylee put in more than 100 hours to complete her community service project, with many of those hours given during her senior year at Grassfield High School, a time when students are busy with exams and preparing for college.

“Taking on a volunteer obligation is something none of us do lightly,” Kaylee’s mom Deneen Keegan said. “We struggle with making a commitment. Our time is precious, and once we give it away, we can’t get it back. I’m so proud of Kaylee and her decision to make a difference in this way.”

Based on numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, a lot of us said no when asked to volunteer over recent years. There has been a steady decline in volunteerism in our nation, including among teens. High school and college students are less likely to volunteer or give to charity today than they were 15 years ago. Reports also reveal that teens whose parents volunteer are significantly more likely to do so themselves.

Luckily, some organizations know the value of youth volunteering and nurture that in our communities. Girl Scouts is one. They know when girls volunteer and give back to their communities, everyone wins, communities are helped, and girls gain essential leadership skills that help them lead in their classrooms and beyond. They also make sure that girls work hand-in-hand with adults, so they are mentored in volunteering.

“I loved doing this project,” Kaylee said and then added with a proud smile, “I liked that I’m making someone else’s life a little bit better. And research shows that by helping others you improve your own mental health.”

To learn more about volunteering in Hampton Roads, including youth volunteer opportunities, visit Volunteer Hampton Roads at www.volunteerhr.org.

To find out more about Girl Scouts, visit www.gsccc.org or call 800-77SCOUT. 

Marcy Germanotta is the communications director for Girl Scouts of Colonial Coast.

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