For three local girls, high school graduation was just the first of ceremonies marking 12 years of accomplishment.
They also recently marked 12 years as girl scouts.
Heidi Coulson, Za'Quana Hampton and Alicia Morris marched and received their parchment for schoolwork May 22 during graduation ceremonies for Thomson High School. On June 1, the three -- members of Girl Scout Troop 128 -- stepped across a stage and were honored for 12 years in Girl Scouting.
The tribute, held at Bethel Baptist Church, was attended by close to 40 people, including a local woman's group, representatives of Central Savannah River Girl Scouts and friends and relatives of the girls.
Shelena Bentley, unit leader for Group 719, spearheaded the effort and felt it important the girls receive recognition for an effort that is rarely accomplished involving one girl, let alone three in the same year.
"They spent the last 12 years accomplishing what not many people accomplish," she said. "They have stayed with Girl Scouts as long as they have been in school. That's truly dedication on their part. To my knowledge this is the first time in the history of the McDuffie County Service Unit that this has been accomplished. And we think it is something to celebrate."
Pastor Tim Ferrell said he was encouraged by the commitment of the girls to themselves and to God.
"In this society in which we are living today, there is so much negative that comes up on young people that it's refreshing to know that there is something in our society that is trying to counteract the harm society does -- to put goodness and morality and character and respectability in the lives of young ladies," he said.
Commended for commitment
Jean Carr, director of membership services for the Central Savannah River Council of Girl Scouts and Keisha Jackson, field executive for the McDuffie County units both spoke of the girls' commitment to what they believed in.
"We congratulate you and want to celebrate with you tonight. It is quite a feat to stay in Girl Scouting for 12 years with everything that's going on in the middle of high school years. There is a lot of competition for a girl's time. Hooray for Girl Scouts," she said.
Vivian Coulson, the girls troop leader and parents of the girls were also saluted.
"The dedication to 12 years of scouting could not be done without the dedication of the leader and the dedication of the parents. Parent involvement is important -- help with projects, advancements, patches and badges... transportation, keeping up with cookie money," said Ms. Bentley.
"Good Turn Daily"
Three representatives from the Thomson Junior Women's Club presented a plague emblazoned with words that are hoped to inspire more girls to follow in the trio's footsteps: "In honor of the young women who have dedicated themselves to the Girl Scout ways and have done a "Good Turn Daily" for 12 years or more" The plaque will stay with the McDuffie County Service Unit in honor of these three girls.
Candy Candler, co-president of the club said she was impressed by the girls' dedication.
"I saw three wonderful young ladies, who took a turn on life for the better. They did not follow normal culture. Instead of bringing themselves down mentally and physically, they made themselves better people," she said.
A representative of Girl Scouts of America commented on the girls' accomplishment.
"With all the demands and pressures girls face growing up today, we're always delighted when girls choose to stay with the positive influence of Girl Scouting from elementary school through high school," said Michele Landa Riggio, spokesperson for Girl Scouts of the USA. "We wish much happiness and success to Heidi, Za'Quana and Alicia, and we hope they will continue as adults to help a new generation discover the fun, friendship and power of girls together through Girl Scouts."
Friends to the end
Each girl said Girl Scouting was something they decided to do for themselves and in a smaller part for each other. The commitment did not come without a cold shoulder from some of the three's acquaintances.
"People at school thought it was kind of geeky and dorky. I told them that I liked it and it didn't matter what they thought, I was going to do what I wanted to do," said Ms. Coulson.
Almost immediately, Alicia chimed in that the friendship tie between the three helped them stick together.
"When I transferred to a new school, it was the only way for me to see Heidi and Za'Quana and have contact with them. That was important to me."
Za'Quana said she encouraged Heidi a bit along the way.
"When she (Heidi) got to high school, she was like "I think I'm just too old for that." As we kept going, we decided it didn't matter what people said. The three of us had made up our mind and we just stuck to it."
The three said they would take a great deal of what they learned on into their adult years.
"We learned about getting along with others. We had the fun of being with other girls who were committed to a group. It was easy to us because we loved it," said Alicia.
"From scary ghost stories to face painting, we have become close friends. Many time when we had our ups and down, but as long as we had each other, things were all right. We saw a lot of girls come and go from the troop, but that did not discourage us," said Za'Quana.
The girls' leader, who is also Heidi's mother, said she was the one who learned something from the dedication of the three.
"It's been the greatest experience of my life to work with them. They have taught me that friendship is one of the strongest bonds ever. I have seen the friendship between these three that I have never seen before, just in the way they help each other when one is upset or angry about something," she said.
Looking to the future
The three girls said they planned to make Girl Scouting a part of their future by helping youngsters learn the same lessons they did.
"I was thinking about giving up the troop," Heidi said. "but I have a few girls that are still there and others coming up, so I'll probably continue. It's been a hard year for me because I was thinking about getting out when they were gone. I've been a leader or co-leader for 11 years. I told Heidi that I would leave when she left. She has been more of a backbone and encouragement to me. She would help me think outside what the book would say as far as projects. She was my spark."
While commitment to the group and projects and learning were important, the leader said there was something much more important.
"All three of these girls are Christians and have been raised in church and are active in their churches in youth groups and other aspects," she said. "One of the things I remember most is the three girls were in tents during a campout and the younger girls were cold and scared and the older girls told the younger ones to have faith in God and that He would take care of them. That says the most about what Girl Scouting does. It establishes principles that not only helps girls grow up, but more importantly grow up in God's will for their lives."