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Noticing Neighbors Laurissa McMillan-DePew, Gold Award Recipient


Throughout the month of October, we are highlighting stories from the accomplished Girl Scout Class of 2021. Today’s feature tells the story of Laurissa McMillan-DePew. With 12 years in Girl Scouts with Service Unit 682, she has achieved the highest honor available: the Gold Award. While one out of every two women has been a Girl Scout at some point in her life, only 6% follow it through to completing the Gold Award—and there is good reason for that. There are years of workshops, training, and collaborative projects that all lead up to the final solo project. With each new level, more ownership is expected, and that final project is the chance for the Girl Scout to create a plan around an issue that means the most to her. For her final project, Laurissa focused on body positivity, with the goal of improving mental health. She created a book that features seven different women of all body types, and the fun part? They are all cast as modern day princesses. For this interview, I got the chance to talk with Laurissa about the book in more detail.


Hayley: With all of your years in Girl Scouts, what does earning the Gold Award mean to you?

Laurissa:

It's the highest order I can get. It just means I've completed Girl Scouts as a whole, and I finally reached the last step. Knowing that all my hard work has finally led up to something special and important. You do all your Badges and Journeys, and it’s all to prepare for the Gold Award.


Hayley:

Are there any particular Badges from over the years that you remember?


Laurissa:

I did a lot of the STEM badges, so I would go to a lot of those events. For those, you get light bulbs as a patch. I have, like, ten of them on my vest. I went to so many of those that are my favorites. I also did a lot of cooking, sewing, and money management. Hayley:

Were you young when you earned the STEM badges?

Laurissa:

I did it throughout my whole career. So I did it in middle school, and also in sophomore year of high school.

Hayley:

So all of those badges and camps lead up to this big Gold Award Project. Can you share what you did for your project?

Laurissa:

I wrote a book titled We Are All Princesses. It's about girls knowing that no matter what they look like, their shape, size, color, abilities—they're princesses. So I worked with all different girls that I knew personally. Some are in Girl Scouts, some I go to Church with, some I go to school with and they all look different. They all portrayed a Princess. One was my sister, she was Snow White. Another girl was Belle.

Hayley: Is that the book? Laurissa:

Yes, so these are the seven girls that I used, and this is me in the overalls. There are a couple of different colors to give the theme for different pages. And then, let's see if I can find the page... so this one is Elsa. You can see each one has a quote, and then their “statement” about what makes them a Princess.

She comes from a split home, and she is a princess. There are all different backgrounds, and each quote is all about positivity. Hayley: Do quotes mean a lot to you? Laurissa: I love quotes. Quotes have been something I use, and have quotes I love up in my room, so I really wanted to make a quote book. Hayley: Can you show me another page?

Laurissa: This one is my best friend since fifth grade. She was Cinderella. She is adopted.

Then here on this page, she portrayed Belle. She's an archer, and she hunts. She's a nationally awarded archer, and I think she's trying to go to the Youth Olympics. This one shows being mixed, and being a princess.

She is actually the sister of my friend in the wheelchair.

This is my sister who struggles with mental health, and so we wanted to include that in there as well.

And we loved showing that size doesn’t matter, so that was the focus of this one. It’s a message that we really wanted to be out there.

Hayley:

Why did you pick this topic for your book? Laurissa: I wrote the book because I struggled with body positivity myself, and I know the mental health issues it causes. I wanted to help other people with it, too. It's a bigger issue that includes everyone. We also took pictures of all the girls with their moms for the end of the book, because I think it's important to show the Queens who raised us.

Hayley: Did you put this together on your own? Laurissa: The person who helped me write this book is my elementary school librarian. She has made a big impact on everyone, and her daughter just passed away to cancer. And so we dedicated the book to her daughter. Hayley: Oh, wow. And that’s so nice she worked with you.

Is the book for sale?


Laurissa: I made it available as a free ebook online. I don't know how many copies we have left, after I gave them out. So every library in my school district has it—elementary, middle school, and the high school all got a copy of the book so that's where people can see it. Then we had a couple of extra copies, so we donated it out. Well, not donated. They had to pay for the printing and the publishing of the book, do you know what I mean?

Hayley:

Sure, at cost.

Laurissa: Yeah, and I think we still have a couple of copies left. Hayley: I've never seen anything like it. And I’d like to circle back to your elementary school librarian, what is her name?


Laurissa: Her name is Krista Beyer.

Hayley:

Did you come up with the idea first, or how did talking with her start?


Laurissa: Well, originally, it had nothing to do with a book. I had a different idea originally for my Gold Award, but then I was scrolling through TikTok. There was a TikTok that came up with princesses, where there’s a photographer and she’s taking pictures of girls dressed as princesses who have darker skin tones. And I was like, what a great idea. What if I try to do something to do with princesses, but also make it about ability and size too? Hayley: So they definitely made a difference by sharing their work online. Had you made a book before?


Laurissa: I had never done anything like a book, and so I immediately thought of my librarian who I was super close with, and asked her if she would help. One of the Gold Award requirements is you have to have a community advisor help you with the project. She started helping us, but we had a lot more people. I had a photographer who was a close friend of ours.

Hayley:

Who else helped you?

Laurissa: My mom works for a company who makes catalogs, and so the person who prints her catalogs helped me with the printing. I also had two different people, who both donated 50 books for free, print them.

I had an editor who edits my mom's catalog. She helped me edit, and also did the design and so it would be bright and colorful. We had Zoom meetings every week for a couple of hours, and we would go through it together, page by page, of things that I wanted to change.

Hayley: What surprised you during the project?

Laurissa: I definitely learned a lot, because designing a book is more particular than I thought. You couldn't just put the words down and be done, which surprised me. Plus I had more opinions than I thought I would once I saw it.

There would be times I would want to change something, and the editor would tell me why it had to be a certain way for printing. I went through that process with her, and then when we went to the actual printing office where I watched them print the book. It showed me how they printed and all the steps that go into it.

Hayley:

What about this artwork on the cover? It’s beautiful. I love how it’s almost like, the reader can see themselves in it since there is no face.

Laurissa: I had someone design the front image, by paying for the illustration from someone who owns a shop on Etsy.

Hayley:

Do you know her Etsy store by chance?


Laurissa: Yeah, her shop name is hashtagmorg.

Hayley:

Got it. So you paid for her to make a custom illustration.


Laurissa: I went looking on Etsy because I really liked the idea of having the no face style. But it still portrays each of the girls specifically. Then all the photos were taken at the home of someone who goes to my church. So it made it where we could do it all in one day.

Hayley:

Wow.

So there's the book authorship part, but then there's also the skill of assembling the whole team. Laurissa: Pretty much! Hayley: You oversaw this whole project. That's amazing. So you're putting in all this work, down to page layout meetings, and I’m wondering: what kept you motivated? What kept you going?

Laurissa: Well, my mom was the main one. She was like, “You have got to get this done!” I knew that this was a big deal, and it's such a meaningful project. Even if I wasn't getting my Gold Award, I would still want to do something like this. Body positivity needs to be recognized more and be out in the world. It was a lot to get the team put together. I wanted to tell everyone thank you, and stayed up making goody bags for all the princesses.


Because for me, it wasn't just about getting the actual Gold Award itself. It was also about creating the book and making a difference in someone's life, which is something I've always wanted to do. I want to be a teacher when I grow up, which is why I'm going to college. I am mainly becoming a teacher so I can make a difference and help people, because that's just what I like to do. Knowing that I'm doing something good for the world would probably be the thing that kept me motivated.

Hayley:

I bet there have been moments where it hits you, just how long you’ve worked in Girl Scouts to reach this point.


Laurissa: Ever since I was in second grade, I went to the Gold Award Banquet that they have every single year. It just feels complete. When I was younger I would think: I am going to be that person on the stage one year.

Hayley: You've had your whole journey with Girl Scouts, and I like how you put it: it feels complete. That's a good word. What are the values that you are going to take away from being a Girl Scout?


Laurissa: I definitely took leadership. I've become a very strong leader through Girl Scouts. I think I've learned how to be myself.

Let's see. I also learned that I can do anything I put my mind to. The book was obviously something big, but I also traveled with Girl Scouts a lot. I would have to save for the trips myself with my own money, so especially when I was young, it seemed hard to save and go on the trip every year. But I was able to do it, and learned how.


So my motto is like: if you put your mind to it, then you can do it. I learned that I can do anything I put my mind to. Nothing is impossible.



You can read Laurissa’s full book online through her free ebook.


All media provided with special permissions given by Laurissa McMillan-DePew and the Girl Scouts of NE Kansas and NW Missouri organization.

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