BY OLIVIA YEPEZ, COURTESY OF THE MORRISTOWN GREEN CONTRIBUTOR
The phrase “Girl Scouts” usually evokes a young girl in a green vest with a plethora of patches. You might imagine her outside a grocery store or on your doorstep, pitching a sale of Thin Mints, Trefoils or Samoas. Morristown High School junior Valencia Julien has been selling cookies and gaining patches since the 3rd grade. Now she has her sights set on the Gold Award, the highest honor for Girl Scouts. She hopes to attain it by writing, publishing and distributing her own children’s book, Giselle Learns About Alzheimer’s.
“When I was in 3rd grade, my grandfather developed symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and I was fairly confused as to why he would no longer be able to pick me up from school or be able to take me to certain practices,” Julien said. “I realized I wanted to make a tool that would help students …understand what the disease of Alzheimer’s is.”
Annually, fewer than 6 percent of Girl Scouts get the Gold Award, according to Edwin Barreto, interim chief financial officer of the Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey (GSNNJ). Only 106 girls from the counties of Morris, Bergen, Passaic, Sussex and northern Warren earned it last year.
“Valencia’s work on her Girl Scout Gold Award to date is impressive and inspiring,” Barreto said, noting that the Girl Scouts always encourage award candidates to tackle issues of community problems that they passionate about.
Julien started the project in early 2020, just before the pandemic sent students home to their computer screens.
Going for Gold has not been easy. In fact, “everything was just fairly hard.”
Quarantines sapped her motivation. And she encountered obstacles familiar to many writers: Deciding on a storyline; and how she wanted characters to look and act; and finding an illustrator she liked, within her budget, and willing to take the assignment. “It took me even longer to find a publicist for the book that was affordable,” Julien said. She wanted physical copies, not just an online edition. But it proved tricky finding a company that would publish a book she plans to give away. Eventually, Julien partnered with Dazzle Printing for hard copies, and with Lulu.com for online publishing.
Completing the book started the Gold Award process. Now she must do community outreach. Julien gave her first reading of Giselle Learns About Alzheimer’s to a group of 3rd-5th graders online. Commanding their attention via computer was difficult. She intends to reach her target audience with more in-person readings, now that the coronavirus is easing. “It’s been a struggle to even get a virtual meeting set up with schools or rec centers in the community,” Julien acknowledged. Yet she is optimistic about achieving the Gold Award soon. “It’s kind of like a full-circle dream come true… It feels like I’ll accept the award on behalf of my grandfather, which feels nice.”