‘Glad I did both:’ Winter Park student earns Girl Scout Gold and Boy Scout Eagle awards
Orlando Sentinel | By Leslie Postal | February 1, 2023
Amelia Skena joined Girl Scouts before she started kindergarten, then years later joined the Boy Scouts of America when it went co-ed. She’s been doing double scouting duties ever since — and doing it very well.
Amelia, 17, a senior at Winter Park High School, recently earned Eagle scout honors and also has received the Gold award from the Girl Scouts, the highest achievements in the two groups. Both awards, which require community service projects, are earned by 6%, or less, of scouts.
“You know what? She’s really going to make the world a better place,” said Michele DeGrazio, leader of Girl Scout troop 238, which Amelia joined in fifth grade after her family moved from Texas to Orlando. “I’m really proud of her.”
It’s not clear how many girls nationwide have earned both awards since the boys scouts began admitting girls in 2019, but at least four other girls — two in California, one in Missouri and one in New York — celebrated similar honors in the past two years, according to newspapers from across the country.
Amelia, who is in the International Baccalaureate program at Winter Park, is among the top students in her class and has been admitted early to Duke University, where she plans to enroll in the fall.
She knew years ago she wanted to achieve the Girl Scouts’ Gold award and once she joined the other scouting organization in ninth grade she was determined to earn the Eagle rank, too.
“I’ve kind of always been super competitive, just with myself,” she said.
The youngest of three sisters, Amelia followed her siblings into scouting, joining a Girl Scouts group when she was in pre-kindergarten in Texas.
She got a taste of what Boy Scouts offered when one of her older sisters joined Venturing, a part of Boy Scouts that has been co-ed since it launched in 1998, and she tagged along on some events.
She was a freshman when the Boy Scouts invited girls to sign up, and her friend Madison Visconti convinced her to join so there would be enough girls (five are needed) to form a troop. Madison, now a first-year student at Florida State University, had a younger brother in Boy Scouts, and her mother agreed to be the leader for the girls group.
Initially, Amelia’s parents were unsure how welcoming Boy Scouts would be.
“We didn’t know how, or if, they would be particularly receptive to girls being able to join,” said her father, David Skena. “They were awesome.”
Amelia and Madison — both then Winter Park High students, both older than most of the boys then in the troop — quickly became leaders in a co-ed unit that did all its activities together, said Paul Escobar, scoutmaster of Troop 424 in Orlando, the boys group.
The girls brought enthusiasm, new ideas and, in Amelia’s case, some of the skills she learned in Girl Scouts to what had been an all-boys troop, he said.
They organized a fashion show to demonstrate appropriate attire for cold weather camping and cooking contests to make dinner preparation more fun when the scouts were out in the woods. They also loved the outdoors and the traditional boy scout activities — “camp, use knives, make fires” — that have long made scouting fun.
“They changed the vibe, changed the tenor of the whole organization, in positive ways, in ways I’d not seen in 30 years of scouting,” said Escobar, who joined scouts as a boy, earned Eagle rank and became involved again when his son was old enough to join.
Both girls are natural leaders, he said, and both were determined to become Eagle scouts, though they had far less time to “rank up” and earn the required badges than boys who joined scouts at age 11.
“They had to work hard, with a focus that few other scouts have,” he added.
“They’re both really driven,” said Beth Visconti, Madison’s mother and scoutmaster of Troop 4424, the girls group. “You give them a task and they say, ‘Lets figure out how we can conquer this.’”
Madison, who was the drum major and band president at Winter Park High, earned her Eagle rank last year but she and Amelia had a joint “court of honor” to celebrate the achievement in January. Amelia will have a Gold award ceremony with Girl Scouts in the spring.
When Madison first pushed her to join, Amelia wasn’t sure how she’d find that branch of scouting. But the teenager, who plays flag football for her high school, loves the outdoors and hiking, and the new scout troop focused on that in a way Girl Scouts did not.
Amelia made two summer trips to the Philmont Scout Ranch in the mountains of New Mexico, which Boys Scouts of America calls its largest “high adventure base,” doing a 12-day and then a 22-day backpacking trip.
Scouts gave Amelia leadership skills and confidence, said her mother, Amy. “She absolutely knows she can handle herself.”
For her Gold project, Amelia worked with the local non-profit Army of Angels to create a school supply cart stocked with donated items. For her Eagle project, she worked at Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge to build new platforms for aging lemurs who can no longer climb ropes but still need a way to get exercise, she said.
Amelia, who wants tofocus on film and documentary studies at Duke, made some short videos for the Central Florida girl scout council showing why girls should join. She’s loved the friendships she’d made through Girl Scouts and the chance to gather with girls from all over Florida.
Still, she admitted, it was kind of a weird assignment given that she was also gung-ho about her other scout troop. But she said each group offered her different, and valuable, experiences.
“I’m very glad I did both,” she said.