Girls of Merit Award Winners

| 26 Sep 2012 | 11:36

—Ashley and Jennifer are as close as sisters can be. According to a nomination letter from Pastor Matilda Gires, who runs a mission the sisters volunteer at, “they are best friends, [there is] never a quarrel or jealousy, [and they are] always working together side by side in harmony.” The sisters share in an extensive list of volunteer activities. Ashley, who is a junior at Sparta High School, says her favorite is the work she does with Sparta’s ambulance squad.
Jennifer is a sophomore at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut studying physical therapy. While she was at home, her favorite organization to volunteer with was Pass It Along, she says, where she spent weekends serving the homeless at a soup kitchen and served as a camp counselor for underprivileged children in Washington D.C.
—Beth is a senior at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, to which she commutes 90 minutes each way by bus. She is a straight-A student who tutors in her free time and is also captain of the varsity tennis team and editor of the school newspaper.
While looking for a meaningful summer project after her junior year, Beth decided to focus on “issues of the developing world.” Beth then found her calling and spent 7 weeks in Ghana, Africa, advocating children’s rights and working to end child slavery. “The world is really beyond my bubble,” Beth says, and her ever-growing obligation to community service taught her that.
—Jenna is a junior at Vernon Township High School who says she has “an extended line of parents,” according to her nomination letter, sent in by Jeanne Buffalino, assistant director of Vernon’s Police Athletic League. She goes on to say that Jenna is currently living with her mother’s ex-boyfriend, who is raising her as his own, as her mother is in and out of rehab facilities and her father doesn’t live in the area.
While many girls in a similar situation would tend to make bad lifestyle choices, Buffalino says, Jenna is “a young lady with outstanding morals and a true compassion for others.” Jenna was not able to be reached for comment before press time.
—Kelsey is a senior at Vernon Township High School and ranks 8th in her class of 400. She is president of the National Honor Society, 1st chair cello in the school orchestra, and a member of several other clubs. Her nomination letter, written by family friend and employer Lori Struck, also says how Kelsey “[gave] a family in need the most precious gift of their lives…a child.”
Kelsey carried a child full-term while maintaining her excellent class standing. Her morals told her to keep the child, she said, and she “didn’t think it would be fair” for the child to have an unwed, high school mother—so she gave the gift of life to a needy couple. On becoming a “Girl of Merit,” Kelsey says “It’s a huge honor to be recognized with so many other wonderful girls.”
—Megan is a junior at Sparta High School who receives good grades, is a 3rd year member of the varsity field hockey team, and founder of the Operation Smile club—a charitable club which helps repair the soft/cleft palate of young children who otherwise can’t afford the operation. According to the nomination letter sent in by Jody Lepore, her mother, “[Megan] has had to endure a lot of sadness at [a] young age, but she has found happiness in helping others.”
In her freshman year, Megan had to overcome the suicide death of her father. Her mom says that she seeks professional help when she needs it, but Megan says that her “great group of friends serves as her support system.” Her personal philosophy, she says, is to “look on the bright side of things and everything will always get better.” On her nomination, Megan says that she is “proud that her mom thinks she’s so strong” and she is “really excited” to receive the award.
—These 3 sophomore girls from Monroe-Woodbury High School like to think of themselves as “sisters from different misters.” Nicole and Paige, fraternal twins, met Allison 5 years ago and have been best friends since. In the girls’ nomination letter, Allison’s mom expresses how “just by being friends, [these girls] are able to let the world know about acceptance, understanding, and compassion for others.”
Allison has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair and legally blind, the letter explains, and the Coombs sisters are able to see past that for the wonderful girl she is. The trio is always doing charity work in the Monroe area, most recently a summer-long project to benefit Joan’s Monarch Wishes, a local cancer awareness organization. Allison says she feels “honored, excited, and happy” to share the award with her two best friends.
—Rachael is a freshman at East Carolina University double majoring in fashion merchandising and business. The choice of major is born of hard times: as a student at West Milford High School, Rachael stood up to a group of bullies who were picking on a teammate and became the target of bullies herself. As a release, Rachael and her mom started a jewelry making business to donate profits to anti-bullying organizations to help spread awareness of the subject.
“I try to focus on the positive,” Rachael says of her high school experience, remembering how her family life really helped her through the roughest patches. She also says that she is honored to accept the award, as not many people have recognized the stand she took against bullying.
—Randi Lyn is an 8th grader at Ogdensburg Elementary School. Randi Lyn receives high-honor grades, plays numerous sports, is a member of the chorus and band and is involved with several volunteer projects. On balancing such a busy schedule, Randi Lyn says, “It’s kind of tricky,” but says she loves serving her community, especially “when you know [your work] is going to somebody in need.”
One of the community members she loves helping most is 3-year-old neighbor Maya Gordon, who suffers from a rare disease called HLH. “It means a lot to see her smile, hear her laugh,” Randi Lyn says. Randi Lyn was nominated by her older sister, Krista, who said in her nomination letter, “I see the way Randi interacts with Maya and it is a beautiful thing.”
—Taylor is a sophomore at Warwick Valley High School who is very active in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program, according to the nomination letter sent in by her grandmother, Mary Beirman. Taylor helped raise more than $100,000 in 25 days to benefit area farmers who lost crops to Hurricane Irene in 2011. Taylor says the money was able to help the local farmers “bounce back” from the natural disaster. Many of them have even told her that this year yielded the best crop in 3 years.
Taylor also has donated to Locks of Love 6 times, starting when she was only 5 years old. She grows her hair out for the sole purpose of donating it once she hits the 10-inch minimum: “Girls of my age [who can’t grow their own hair] can use it more than I can,” Taylor says, “all I have to do is grow it for them.”
—Tess is a sophomore at Newton High School involved in a slew of activities, including the Girl Scouts, tennis, guitar, Tae Kwon Do (black-belt) and her school’s competitive robotics team, among other things. She is also very involved with community service.
Perhaps none of these things is as significant as the fact that Tess was awarded the Girl Scouts Medal of Honor for saving a woman’s life while vacationing in Alaska with her family last year. Tess used the CPR training she received in the scouts to rescue a drowned woman she found floating in their hotel pool. She is currently working on the Girl Scouts Gold Award, which is the highest award available in the organization. Tess was not able to be reached for comment before press time.