If the mission of Girl Scouting is to build girls of character who make the world a better place, then the fifth-grade troop at Virginia Lake School in Palatine is succeeding.
Earlier this month, the 12 troop members wrapped up their project to earn the Girl Scouts' Bronze Award, considered to be the highest award for Junior Girl Scouts and the third highest award in Girl Scouting.
In order to earn this leadership award, the project must be a difference-maker in the community.
The girls began deliberating in September, where an interesting dynamic played out in their brainstorming sessions. A high number of the troop members are adopted and, consequently, their thoughts turned to children finding new families and making new homes.
After much discussion, they decided to collect suitcases for children being protected by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
"The girls really felt strongly about kids helping kids," says Assistant Troop Leader Maryann Graham of Palatine. "They talked about how they would feel if they had to suddenly move."
Over the next few months, the girls wrote letters to potential donors, made fliers to market their plan and planned out collection sites.
In all, they collected enough suitcases and duffel bags to fill a full-size SUV, but they didn't stop there. They also collected books and toiletries to put inside the suitcases, and they made fleece blankets to comfort children in transition.
Their project made an impact on officials with DCFS. James Bracey, a social worker with the agency, came out personally to pick up the bags. He also spoke to the troop about what it would mean to be a foster child taken into protective custody.
Veronica Resa, a spokeswoman with the agency, was personally touched by the troop's generosity and thoughtfulness in thinking about other children suddenly having to leave their homes.
"Our children really need them," Resa says. "Often they have to use garbage bags when they are taken into care under urgent circumstances."
More than 4,700 children across the state were taken into protective custody in 2016, she says, pointing to the most recent statistics available. The published report indicates 320 of those were from the Northern portion of Cook County.
As of this month, she adds, DCFS is legally responsible for 16,241 children and youth in care; however, 80 percent of those children will eventually be reunited with their relatives.
"We don't often get donations like this," Resa adds, "but, yes, they are welcome and we are often in desperate need of them."
Graham and fellow troop leaders Helen George, Jennifer Martinez and Jori Reuter decided that this girl-run project had met the criteria for earning the Bronze Award. The girls will receive their awards next month, when they bridge to Girl Scouting's next level: Cadettes.