Diocesan News

Girl Scout Brings Mental Health Awareness to the Forefront

In February 2021, Madison Garrett was awarded the Girl Scouts’ highest award — the Gold Award — for her work on the mental health of black youth. (Photo: Courtesy of Madison Garrett)

Brooklyn Teen Leading a New Generation and Conversation

PARK SLOPE — Within nine years, Madison Garrett rose through the ranks to become an Ambassador Girl Scout and earned the program’s highest award for scouts between the ages of 14 and 17 — the Gold Award.

The Gold Award, which is comparable to the Boy Scouts of America’s Eagle Scout merit, requires planning and implementing an 80-hour “Take Action” service project with a sustainable impact on the scout’s community.

Between 60 and 70 Girl Scouts across the city usually earn the Gold Award each year, according to the Girl Scouts of Greater New York (GSGNY). However, the pandemic and accompanying shutdowns have required many to adapt their projects to the new remote environment. Some projects, a CSGNY representative said, were even postponed or delayed as a result.

Garrett’s project, which focused on the mental health of black youth, originally began in 2019 after Garrett started her sophomore year at St. Saviour High School. Despite being impacted by the pandemic, the now-junior powered through, thinking more creatively when redesigning her remote-friendly plans. That hard work, she said, was worth it.

“I’m a night owl and there were some nights where I only got four hours of sleep because I was doing all my honors and A.P. schoolwork on time and then working on the Gold Award project,” Garrett admitted. “You don’t realize how precious every hour is, and you definitely want to get as much done as possible every single day.”

First, Garrett wrote two articles for The New York Beacon, discussing the increased suicide rate among African American adolescents, as well as issues many young African American women face daily. From there, she used her findings to bring additional mental health awareness to girls her age and younger.

“I had to simplify terms and concepts when I talked to the little black girls of my Girl Scout troop [2261] about self-love, mental health, and identifying when you’re upset — especially while we’re all in remote learning,” said the 16-year-old, who lived in East Flatbush for nearly 15 years and recently moved to West Babylon, Long Island. “I taught them if you’re frustrated or if your computer is buffering, take a deep breath because everything’s going to be okay.”

At the high school level, Garrett founded and launched St. Saviour’s Afro-Caribbean Student Association this past fall, which currently has about 25 members. The goal was to not only create a space for students to have candid conversations following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, but to also tie in her Gold Award resources. Those resources included creating a website, making presentations, and self-designing brochures that listed hotlines for students seeking help for depression or anxiety.

But, the biggest component of Garrett’s project was organizing a mental health seminar in mid-December 2020, which featured a trauma coordinator from Kings County Hospital Center and a representative from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ office as guest speakers.

“I wanted to tackle these matters now with the racial injustice, remote learning, and then the pandemic,” Garrett said, noting that troop members, St. Saviour classmates, and older friends, family, and neighbors attended the event. “These three factors have really been crucial to people’s mental health.”

Afterward, Garrett submitted her materials and time log that outlined how and when she completed everything she planned to do. GSGNY notified Garrett and her mother in February 2021 that the project was awarded gold status. The project was one of seven to be deemed gold-worthy in Brooklyn so far in 2021, according to Marlinda Cesar-Wiley, manager of the Girl Leadership Programs at GSGNY.

“I was in my A.P. U.S. history class when I got the email and I had to turn my camera off for two seconds to jump up and down,” Garrett recalled. “I was so ecstatic, and it was definitely one of my top 10 days of the last year.”

Though the Gold Award is the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, Garrett continues to work on other initiatives that allow her to stay proactive within her community. She and four other scouts from GSGNY’s Leadership Institute are creating an e-magazine, which will focus on poverty awareness and how poverty correlates with environmental justice within New York City during the pandemic.

“And I’m still working on black adolescent mental health by shooting a documentary,” said Garrett, who is interested in film-making. “I’m interviewing African American teenagers in my area about how they’re handling the pandemic, remote learning, and the killings that occurred last year.”

“This isn’t a burden or something I have to do,” she added. “It’s something I want to do and I enjoy it.”