Margaret “Maggie” Kelley, from Sevierville, had a full Girl Scout experience – camping, earning badges, and completing her Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can earn. But what made her experience unique? She’s a descendant of the Girl Scout movement founder, Juliette Gordon Low.
Now a freshman in college studying engineering and computer science, Maggie joined Girl Scouts as a Brownie. Her troop was very “outdoorsy,” and she enjoyed the engineering STEM badges most.
“[Through my Girl Scout experience,] I learned so much,” said Maggie. “Cookie sales actually teaches so much money management and responsibility. Leading trips, badges, making sure you checked off everything … [it all develops] organizational skills and leadership and communication.”
Her great-great-grandfather was first cousins with the iconic Juliette Gordon Low. Maggie was fascinated learning about her distant relative through Girl Scouting books. Reading about her “shenanigans,” Maggie says Low “fits into our family perfectly.”
Born in Savannah, Georgia, Low founded Girl Scouts in 1912. The first gathering of 18 girls grew into a movement of 2.5 million members today. Known as “Daisy,” she was known for her adventurous, curious and compassionate spirit, passionate about ensuring all girls had a place to learn and grow into leaders.
To earn the Gold Award, Maggie dedicated her efforts toward bats and education about white-nose syndrome, a disease of hibernating bats that has spread across the United States. Since 2007, millions of bats have died from the disease.
It took Maggie more than five years to decide on her Gold Award project. She tried getting several projects off the ground, eventually deciding on a wildlife focus. When she learned about the pervasiveness of white-nose syndrome in the Smoky Mountains, her own backyard, she quickly became inspired to educate her community. Maggie built more than 30 bat houses to prevent the spread of the disease and created educational pamphlets on the declining bat population.
The project didn’t come without difficulty – Maggie was in a car accident the day before she was to begin her project. With a shoulder injury, she relied on the assistance of family members when working with power tools.
“I knew I had a great community that would be excited about the project,” said Maggie, “but actually seeing it come into action and knowing I’m always going to have someone to back me up was really cool and a really good experience.”
More than a hundred years after the birth of Girl Scouting, girls continue to make a difference and lasting change in their communities, every day. Maggie is just one example of bringing Juliette Gordon Low’s vision and legacy to life – and just so happens to have a pretty special family lineage.
Brooke Conner is social media and content coordinator for Girl Scouts of the Southern Appalachians.