Photo courtesy of MyGirlScoutProject.com
To kick off Veterans Day Weekend, on Nov. 7, Johns Creek, Ga., will dedicate its new Veterans Memorial Walk. At that dedication, Girl Scout and guest of honor Sabrina Yvellez will help raise the flag. She's 14 years old and responsible for the Women's in Service section of the memorial, raising more than $10,000 to make it a reality.
When Sabrina decided to tackle a Girl Scout Silver Award project, she began the hunt to find a cause she could be passionate about in her community. She was considering helping a daycare when she saw a story on the local news about a Veterans Memorial Walk. Brought up in a military family and daughter of Marine veteran Rudy Yvellez, the project piqued her interest.
She contacted Wayne Kidd, the now-president of the Johns Creek Veterans Association, before cementing her decision.
"We're not celebrating war — personally I've had enough of war — but we're trying to project a contemplative veterans memorial," Kidd said. "By that I mean providing our visitors with the perfect venue away from distractions and street noise, a quiet venue ... the setting perfect for remembrance and honor, not only for veterans but for those men and women still serving, who are basically our future veterans."
The four-acre walk will have 10 monuments, honoring veterans and active servicemembers, especially honoring World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Korea, the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. There will also be three monuments honoring women in service, Purple Heart recipients and POW/MIA. Black granite benches, dedicated pavers, and etched black granite walls would dot a pathway, encouraging contemplation and quiet. A team of veterans will take turns offering tours to schoolchildren, civic groups and youth groups, keeping the space active, Kidd said.
"He took me on a tour of what he envisioned of the Memorial Walk and once we finished the tour ... I knew it was going to be something so grand that would make the community come together," she said.
Sabrina was determined to make the veterans' project her own. At the time, she was 12 years old. The only parameter for the award, she said, was that the project be sustainable. Initially, she thought she'd raise money for just a bench in the park.
"But my parents encouraged me — always encourage me actually — to think big and go outside of my comfort zone so I can learn more," Sabrina said, "so I decided to take on the whole Women in Service portion of the Memorial Walk. ...
"I really felt that they exemplified the Girl Scout motto of 'courage, confidence and character.' So I thought it was very important to highlight how brave these women were to go outside of their comfort zone and defend our country for what they believe in."
The price tag for the Women in Service portion of the park: $13,000.
This number didn't faze Sabrina. She made her own "sales tools," Kidd said — a display including a trifold, business cards and some sample pavers. She attended events and set up her booth, did bake sales and even pitched CEOs and company presidents in the area.
"It was hard for me at first because I'm not shy but I really wouldn’t call myself a public speaker, so I had to learn how to talk in front of people," she said. "I did that by attending different festivals or events that they had at the park. . . . Then I contacted CEOs of companies in the Johns Creek and Alpharetta area to see what they could do to help me. I actually had my own meetings with them."
Aside from standing in front of business heads and local leaders asking for donations, Sabrina's efforts caught media attention. She said she talked to newspaper reporters (named a "Hometown Hero" by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and on the radio. The exposure helped her cause and grew her confidence.
A budding writer, Sabrina used her skills to speak out and raise awareness and funds through a blog (www.mygirlscoutproject.com), which she designed and maintains herself.
"I'm so used to being that quiet girl in the back that really didn't have anything to say until they asked me about this project. I just started telling everyone about it because it meant a lot to me and my family," Sabrina said. "But I think once I came out of that shell and really got excited about this, I overcame that fear that I'd always had."
Kidd also noticed a change in Sabrina as the memorial progressed.
"I worked alongside of her for many of the activities and it was wonderful to see the transition relative to confidence. She was just so dedicated," he said.
She was also a persuasive fundraiser, Kidd added.
"And people — you're not just saying no to a Girl Scout for cookies, you're saying no to Sabrina, who wanted a contribution for women in service for a veterans memorial. That's pretty hard to resist. She was very good and she did the job. We were totally — not surprised — but very few kids have that kind of dedication. Yes, you want a few weekends, car washing? No problem. But she did it over a year."
He said her parents were supportive, always attending events with her. And after having met her goal, which took more than a year to meet, Sabrina's family, particularly its military members, have told her they're "very proud."
"It just makes not only them proud, but me proud myself — that I can actually do things, I can change the world if I want to," she said.
She said she's excited for the "big ordeal" at the opening ceremony. Her family and friends will be in attendance. But it's the possibility of this memorial, not just the result that Sabrina puts at the bottom line.
"I think this is a great way to honor the people that defend our country. And I want [people] to know that you're never too young or too old or too anything to do something big. If you dream big, and you really put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything," she said.