October 21, 2020
| 11:31 a.m.
Olivia “Lulu“ Gaitan, a senior at San Marcos High School, had earned the Girl Scout Gold Award with her project called Friendship Has No Age.
When she set out on her journey to the Girl Scout Gold Award, she wanted to create a way for the teens and elders in her community to interact. To cultivate these intergenerational friendships, she created TeenAngels, a volunteer group that would meet with retirement home residents to organize activities and spend time with them.
“My goal for this project was to create a bond between elders and teenagers by setting up monthly meetings where both would interact and gain friendships,” Gaitan said. “I knew it would be beneficial for both the elders and teenagers.”
She began by sending digital invitations for a volunteer opportunity to potential TeenAngels. Six teens signed joined her team. They first met with Santa Barbara Village (now part of Community Partners in Caring), a nonprofit program that helps seniors live independently in their own homes through a “virtual senior living community.”
When the program had time conflicts with the volunteers’ school schedules, they began reaching out to Vista Del Monte, an assisted living facility in Santa Barbara.
Gaitan met with Vista Del Monte’s director of activities to discuss her plan and potential events. The TeenAngels had their introduction to Vista Del Monte’s Summer House (memory care unit) in October 2019, leading the seniors in a Bingo activity and Q&A session to learn more about the residents.
The group then planned, organized and led monthly activities such as holiday craft projects and a talent show with a few of the TeenAngels participating themselves. To purchase the necessary event supplies, Gaitan used her earnings from the Girl Scout cookie program.
“The TeenAngels looked forward to coming to the meetings, and as time went on we got more volunteers to join the team,” she said. “I found that the TeenAngels really liked to come and spend time with the elders, and they were flexible to do what was needed when we arrived.
“They appreciated the time with the elders and loved sharing stories and learning new things about each other. They were very patient and compassionate. After the meetings, my TeenAngels always had something positive to say about the time.
“In addition, workers at Vista Del Monte would tell me how residents would talk about our event for days after.”
So far, the group has met with Vista Del Monte residents seven times, twice virtually due to the Covid-19 shutdowns. They will continue to meet with the seniors virtually until it is safe to return to in-person events.
After Gaitan graduates high school this year, she will be passing the leadership of TeenAngels to two of its current members – Kaylene King, a junior at San Marcos High, and Yulissa Jimenez, a sophomore at Saint Rafael School.
Gaitan hopes that with the girls’ previous experience and her provided outlines, TeenAngels will continue to build friendships with the seniors in their communities.
“The most successful part of my project was when the TeenAngels and the residents began to form relationships,” Gaitan said. “Each time we met with the residents at Vista Del Monte, the TeenAngels learned something new about their lives.
“As time went on, they learned how to be respectful and kind while working with the residents.”
With regards to her own experiences throughout the project, Gaitan said, “I learned that when I really put my mind to something, I can get it done. I learned to be flexible since not everything is perfect or will go the way you want it to, and that’s OK.
“I learned that I can think on my feet and problem solve. I also learned that I love to help others and bring a smile to their face.”
Working toward the Gold Award, Girl Scouts in communities across the nation are creating long-term solutions to real-world problems. To learn more, visit https://www.girlscoutsccc.org/en/about-girl-scouts/our-program/highest-awards/gold-award.html.
Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast serves some 8,800 girls across six counties. Girls participate in troops, individual projects, council events, day camps, resident camps and more. A variety of leadership, outdoor skills, and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)-based programs and events are offered.
To join or volunteer in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo or Ventura counties, visit http://www.girlscoutsccc.org.