Noticing Neighbors Maya Kirschenbaum, 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 Maya Kirschenbaum. With 13 years in Girl Scouts with Troop 118, 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, Maya provided access to cultural recipes, crafts, and festival information for adopted Asian Americans. Her goal was to help everyone who engaged feel more connected with their heritage. This work created a sustainable solution that is now being used by FBWC, (Families Blessed with the World’s Children) a local organization that celebrates the backgrounds of children adopted internationally. For this interview, I got the chance to talk with Maya about her work in more detail.

Hayley: It's amazing that you've earned this award and worked really hard, but it's also really brave to share your experience. So thank you for this opportunity to talk with you.

Maya:

No problem.


Hayley:

So you’ve just earned your Gold Award, and I was wondering: what values have you learned from Girl Scouts that you’ll take with you?


Maya:

One of the main things is problem solving. The badges required us to work together and find solutions, and if it didn't go with plan, then we had to adapt with problem solving. Hayley: Adapting to the moment is such a great skill. Was there any badge that stood out to you in particular?

Maya:

Let me think—there was one I liked at the Cosmosphere, where we earned one of the astrology badges. We were creating a rocket together, and ran into some problems. So we just had to work together to find new pieces to build our rocket.

Hayley:

Wow. So creativity and problem solving, all at the same time. Maya: Definitely. Hayley: Can you explain what you did for your Gold Award project?


Maya:

So the organization I worked with is FBWC, which stands for Families Blessed with the World's Children. It is mostly for foreign Chinese adoptees. The organization creates festivals, you know? Like the Moon Festival, the Lantern Festival—they create events where people can come learn crafts, enjoy food, and join in on the dancing.

What I did was create a whole new website for them. I also created craft videos that match with each of the year’s zodiac signs. So there would be a video on creating lanterns, for example, and it included information for learning the background too.

Hayley:

With the videos, what was your hope for people watching? Were you hoping that they would learn something?


Maya:

I also created a YouTube channel! So I hoped that they would watch the craft videos and say: oh, I want to try this. Or if parents found it, they would think: this would be cool to show my kid, you know?

Hayley:

That's amazing. The website and the crafting. There are a lot of pieces to that. What skills did you learn from your Gold Award project?

Maya: A lot of leadership and communication. Most of the volunteers that I had were other teenagers my age, because they needed community service hours. And so I thought: I would be happy to give that to them. Definitely leadership, telling them what to do, and showing all the steps they had to take for each activity.


Hayley:

Was there anything you saw in yourself that surprised you during the project? Maya: Hm. Hayley: You kept showing up to the moment!

Maya:

I think I would say leadership. I'm really not the leadership type, you know? But I think the project got me out of my comfort zone, and I would tell the volunteers what to do, and give them instructions.


Hayley:

Well sometimes you try on a role and you're surprised at how well it fits, right? Maya: Yeah. Hayley: I mean, maybe you hadn't tried it before, and then it’s like: Well wait a minute. I'm a really considerate leader—

Maya: You know what yeah, and especially because I’d never had a project this big. It was doing something new. I just kept being like: okay, I can do this.


Hayley:

You were willing to get out of your comfort zone. How have you seen yourself grow as a Girl Scout?


Maya:

Well at the beginning of Girl Scouts, I was really little. We had the troop leaders there to lead us. They told us what to do, and which badges we were going to do. But then as we grow, like middle school and high school, we start to plan our own badges and pick what we want to do with all the camping.


You definitely get more ownership as you get older, and take more control over it.


Hayley: I'm really curious what you would say to a young Girl Scout reading this. If she doesn't have her Gold Award, and hasn't gone through all of those steps, what would you tell her?


Maya:

I would say stick with it. The experience of going through Girl Scouts is pretty amazing, even though at first it doesn't seem like it. As a kid it could feel like: oh, I have to do this and this. But you get to meet new people, try new things, and go on adventures. It's actually really cool.

Hayley: It seems like people that stick with it are really happy that they did.


Maya:

Yeah, definitely. I definitely feel that way.


Hayley:

So this is the last question, and it's a very broad question. You've been on this long journey as a Girl Scout, how have you seen goodness in it?


Maya:

When I was creating the website, I put up information on the Lunar New Year, because with COVID we couldn’t celebrate in person. So I shared that information. There are recipes and videos that link to different foods. Hayley:

What kinds of foods?

Maya:

Dumplings, rice, noodles and soups. So I saw on the Facebook page that people would share pictures and comment on all the different foods they tried. They would also share the lanterns that they made.

Hayley:

So they were sharing their own pictures?


Maya:

Yeah, I got to see them use it. I thought that was really cool.

Hayley: You literally watched it make a difference.


Maya:

I did! It was so fun to see.



You can see all of Maya’s recipes, festival info, and crafts on the FBWC website.


All media provided with special permissions given by Maya Kirschenbaum and the Girl Scouts of NE Kansas and NW Missouri organization.