Frances Burnett's Girl Scouts vest sports more than 60 different patches she earned as a senior scout. She garnered the Gold Award — the tiny medallion she holds in her right hand — by leading a two-day, youth leadership forum at Camp Zama.

Frances Burnett's Girl Scouts vest sports more than 60 different patches she earned as a senior scout. She garnered the Gold Award — the tiny medallion she holds in her right hand — by leading a two-day, youth leadership forum at Camp Zama. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — At the pinnacle of her scouting career, Frances Burnett is hanging up her prized blue vest.

Membership in Girl Scouts ends for the Zama High School senior at graduation.

But Burnett has big plans for the uniform she’s worn the past five years as a cadet and senior scout.

When her mother sets up house in the United States, “I’m going to make her hang it up with all my certificates and trophies,” Burnett said.

Burnett has good reason to be proud: This spring, she earned the highest award in Girl Scouts — the Gold Award.

Equivalent to Eagle rank in Boy Scouts, the Gold Award is not well-known, even in some Girl Scout circles, according to Burnett, who’d never heard of it until several years ago when one of her troop leaders at Camp Zama “told us if we did this and this, we could get our silver and gold.”

Burnett, 18, earned the Silver Award in 2000 — a prerequisite for the Gold — and set her sights on one day adorning her vest with the small gold pin that resembles the sun and signifies leadership.

To garner the gold, Burnett had to plan and implement a community-service project that required at least 50 hours of work. First, though, she had to rack up seven “interest patches” by completing a series of mini projects, which ranged from sports to interaction with the local community.

For her big project, Burnett organized and directed a two-day, youth leadership forum at Camp Zama’s School Age Services, an after-school program for children ages 6-12.

A leadership theme was the natural choice for Burnett, since she’s attended three youth leadership conferences through the camp’s youth center. At those student gatherings — two in Hawaii and one at Zama — Burnett learned about “Character Counts,” a national program that teaches the six “pillars” of good character.

Burnett this year, with the help of three friends and fellow Keystone Club members, taught those fundamentals to 45 SAS children, adjusting the activities so they were age appropriate.

To keep the children interested while reinforcing lessons, each exercise was hands-on with colorful, fun props. A lesson on respect had the children making glasses from pipe cleaners, feathers and beads — and perhaps a few giggles.

“We called them ‘respectacle glasses,’” Burnett said.

The point?

“We showed them they should respect people at all times, no matter what people look like,” Burnett said, adding: “Whatever they’re wearing, you have to respect them.”

Burnett found it awkward when she first approached SAS administrators and teachers about her idea. It was strange speaking to adults on such a formal level, she said. But Burnett quickly impressed the SAS group.

“She was a great leader,” said teacher Miho Sanderson, adding the children enjoyed learning about Character Counts.

Working toward the Gold Award forced Burnett to become a meticulous planner and learned how to delegate, she said. It also showed her the fruits of determination. “If you start something and you really want to do it, you just stick to it,” she said.

Burnett was the first scout from Troop 27 to earn the Gold Award since 2000, she said. Outside of scouting, Burnett also served as senior class president at Zama.

Burnett, however, doesn’t have immediate plans to take on any leadership roles when she enrolls in college this fall. She’s been accepted at Bowie State in Maryland and is waiting to hear from her first choice, Hampton University in Virginia, where she would like to major in theater arts.

“I want to act in movies and TV,” she said.

Whatever her path, Burnett sees herself returning to Girl Scouts when she’s older, either as a troop leader or helper.

“I would recommend Girl Scouts to every girl,” she said. “You learn about life, about the different skills you need as a girl growing up. You don’t let anybody put you down just because you’re a girl.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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