Connected by strong bonds of shared adventure, service and friendship, all 10 young women of South Pasadena Girl Scout Troop 12521 recently celebrated their last trip together after 13 solid years together as a troop.
The members first came together as kindergarteners, and graduated as South Pasadena High School seniors in June. Six have earned the Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouts, involving 80-100 hours of focused community service, and one is currently finishing the process.
The troop consists of Katya Baranets, Sofie Dreskin, Uma Hornish, Olivia Hunt, Ashlyn Kawakami, Lindsey Kuwahara, Jade Myer, Jael Osborne, Anna Riffle and Sofie Urbina. Troop co-leaders are Rosanna Baranets and Wendy Kerfoot. Darleen Kuwahara initially formed the troop with Reina Rogers, who together recruited Kerfoot to join them as leaders.
In a time when many troops fade over time, with scouts pursuing other interests, Kerfoot credits fellow co-leader Baranets’ philosophy of bringing things to the table that the girls couldn’t do at home or at school, such as service projects and adventuring in the wilderness.
“I’m always big into the outdoors,” Kerfoot told the Review. “So I always say, ‘Let’s go big, let’s go camping, let’s go kayaking, let’s try something new. Let’s push our boundaries.’ I like being outside and I think a lot of kids don’t get outside as much as you think they should.”
The troop’s numerous adventures and achievements include camping 12 times; “bridging” (a ceremony for moving from one scout level to the next) in San Francisco at the end of fifth grade and in Chicago at the end of eighth grade; and collectively earning both their Bronze Award by organizing a cleanup of the Los Angeles River and their Silver Award working with Operation Homefront, a charity for veterans and their families.
Jade Myer was the first member of her family to participate in Girl Scouts. As a self-described shy kid when she joined, she said the troop provided her with a strong foundation of community and friendship which helped her to grow.
“I can say standing here now that it’s been one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Myer.
Myer noted that it was more than just a troop to her. They’ve grown up together, shared “unwavering friendship” and milestones, and everything good and bad between one another.
“I’ve learned a lot more than just building a fire and selling Girl Scout cookies,” Myer said. “I’ve learned how to be a friend and be kind and hard-working, and it’s because of those girls and the special bond that we have that I have those things.”
For her Gold Award, Myer created a series of workshops last year for the Pasadena Senior Center to teach senior citizens about modern technology. She taught 16 classes, each focused on a different aspect of technology. She then donated the lessons plans and outlines to the center so that ongoing classes can be continued. She plans to attend the University of Pittsburgh to pursue nursing.
Katya Baranets said that while the troop members branched out into other friendships and activities while at school, the bonds they’d formed through the troop served as a unity point that served as an anchor.
“A lot of our friendships would transcend social status at school and I always kind of appreciated that,” said Baranets.
One of her most cherished memories was their “final hurrah” as a troop to San Luis Obispo earlier this year. The troop shared a rented house together, kayaked in the ocean, stayed up late talking and reflected on how their lives were changing as graduating seniors.
“This was the last time we could join together as a troop and do things together,” recalled Baranets. “That was really special to me.”
To earn her Gold Award, Baranets met with 12 seniors two years ago across South Pasadena, Eagle Rock and the greater San Gabriel Valley to interview them and compile their life stories into a collection called “Voices of the Past: A Collection of Stories,” illustrated by fellow troop member Ashlyn Kawakami. She ended up self-publishing the collection under her full name, Ekaterina Baranets. It’s available at the South Pasadena Public Library and on Amazon.com.
“Whether they were Vietnam War veterans in general or whether they had been a housewife for 50 years, I’m a strong believer that all stories are important, no matter what you’ve done in your life,” said Baranets. “I really wanted to manifest that and bring that to life by talking with people in my community.”
In a nod to her father’s Russian roots, she plans to study language in an international scope when she attends San Diego State University this fall.
Looking ahead to the future as the troop members bid one another farewell in the next phase of their lives, Baranets is hopeful that one day they’ll share a reunion.
“There’s this bond of time that we all have … we’ve known each other for pretty much over three quarters of our own lives,” Baranets said. “I feel that time itself is going to bring us closer together and the fact that we’ve known each other for so long.”