ALAMEDA -- Alameda's Girl Scout Troop 32717 celebrated 12 years together at an afternoon potluck party and awards ceremony May 12 at Harbor Bay Isle Community Center.
Most of the 11 girls in the troop have been together since first grade and are now graduating high school and heading off to college. As a final farewell, the troop will take a three-day cruise out of Los Angeles to Mexico this summer.
"It's a fantastic group of girls; they are always involved and participating -- I think that's why we've stayed together for so long," said co-leader Tirra Stenstedt, whose 17-year-old daughter Mariko has been with Troop 32717 since its inception.
The celebration also honored seven troop members who earned the Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouting.
"The award is the equivalent to the Boy Scout Eagle Award and requires a community service project that takes a minimum of 80 hours to complete," Stenstedt said.
Over the years, the troop has earned dozens of badges and been on numerous camping trips. It has also volunteered many hours of community service, with a special focus on helping families at Alameda Point Collaborative (APC), a supportive housing community.
"From early on, we focused on APC with winter coat drives and Halloween costume drives," Stenstedt said. "As juniors, the girls' Bronze Award project was upgrading the homework room at APC with books and bookshelves."
The troop continued its work with APC for its Silver Award project, which involved running a four-day kids' summer camp.
For her Gold Award project, Mikaila Baskin, 18, also chose to focus on APC with a recycling education program for kids.
"We held a three-week program with workshops and presentations," said Baskin, who is graduating from Alameda High School this year and heading to UC Berkeley to study environmental science. "At the beginning, we asked the kids where they put their recycling. They said, 'the dumpster.' By the end, they knew how to sort trash into different bins and became very passionate about it."
Baskin is both sad and excited to be moving on from the troop.
"It's sad because I've spent 12 years with this group of girls, but good because of the leadership and problem-solving skills that I've learned with the troop that I can take with me," Baskin said.
Fellow Gold Award winner Marina Fong created a large public mural at APC. She took input from the residents about the content of the mural and enlisted the help of teens to paint it. "The mural is a big community art piece that instills community pride and teaches respect for community property," said Stenstedt, adding that graffiti used to be a problem on the formerly blank wall.
Mariko Stenstedt launched "Live Long and Prosper," a summer camp for first- through sixth-graders at APC and enlisted the help of 21 volunteer high school counselors. The focus of the camp was to teach the children healthy nutrition and exercise choices so they would live long and prosper.
Other Gold Award winners chose projects further afield. Rachel Menendez, 17, whose mother Hilary Menendez is co-leader of the troop, organized a free four-day acting camp for youth in Tulum, Mexico, a community where theater and the arts are not accessible to children.
"It was an amazing experience," said Menendez, who is also graduating from Alameda High School this year and heading to UC Irvine to study drama. "I was a little nervous because I'd never been in a totally Spanish-speaking environment before, so it was a bit of a culture shock. Art and drama have given me so much that I wanted to give that back to other kids."
She used the town square for her "theatre" and, to wrap up the camp, the fledgling actors performed songs and scenes from a short script of "The Little Mermaid" that Menendez wrote in Spanish. She said she's lucky to have been with the troop of Girl Scouts since first grade.
"I got to explore a lot of things that I couldn't have done without the Scouts as well as help out in the community, especially with underprivileged children," she said.
Eighteen-year-old Caitlin Shener ran "Camp Bay Explore," a five-day summer camp to teach children to be environmentally aware. They explored the shoreline of Bay Farm Island, learned to make recycled crafts and cooked food using solar energy.
Drew Mitchell, 18, also opted for a theatrical project -- her "Summer Spotlight" was a free five-day acting camp for Alameda children. At the end, the young actors performed a version of "The Pied Piper."
"The children gained self-confidence from the experience and a love for theater," Stenstedt said.
Scout Sarah Fong chose to create a pleasant garden at her church from an underused outdoor space. For her Garden of Rejuvenation project, she enlisted the help of church members and youth and also taught about how gardens are good for the environment.
Other longtime troop members are Brianna Devlin, 18, Kaitlyn Gee, 17, Michelle Nip, 18, and Michelle Mayer, 18.
"It's really neat to have this unique community for the girls, who have lots of interests outside of Girl Scouts, but have stayed together for so long," Stenstedt said.