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Canton Girl Scout’s bullying project wins national award

fr martinGirl Scout Elizabeth Martin has remained quiet and humble for the last couple of weeks as local leaders shower her with accolades.

With more than 400 hours invested in an anti-bullying project and a 2015 National Young Woman of Distinction Award from the Girl Scouts of America to show for her efforts, the Pisgah High senior deserves the praise. Only 10 young women in the nation received the award this year. 

Marsha Tate, Martin’s Girl Scout leader, said she was very proud of Martin. 

“It’s very rare for a girl to obtain this award,” said Tate, who has been a Girl Scout leader in Canton for 25 years. “I’ve only had nine girls receive them during my time, so I know it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of determination.”

Martin was recognized for her achievements at the Canton Board of Aldermen meeting last week where she was presented with a key to the city, and she was also acknowledged at a recent Haywood County Council of Government meeting.

She’s gotten used to taking her “Shine Your Own Way” educational program on the road, and it doesn’t appear the spotlight will be dimming anytime soon. When Martin was presented the national award in New York City, she was interviewed by Robin McGraw — wife of popular TV talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw. Tate said plans are being made for Martin and the other nine national award winners to appear on his show to talk about their projects. 

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None of the excitement seems to faze Martin though — she was simply completing another Girl Scout requirement. Just as the Boy Scouts have to complete a large-scale service project before becoming an Eagle Scout, the Gold Award project is the equivalent for Girl Scouts. 

“When we started the Gold Award projects in 2013, I started thinking about what to do for it,” Martin said. “One of my idols, Lady Gaga, was talking about the problem of bullying — she inspired me and I wanted to do something about it.”

While she’s never been a victim of bullying, she sees the effects it can have on others. Martin learned that 1 in 6 students in the U.S. are bullied at school, and students who are bullied are more likely to commit suicide or harm themselves. The more she learned about the issue, the larger her Gold Award project became. 

“Bullying is mainly about their feelings — children don’t know how to express their feelings so they bully others without knowing the consequences of it,” Martin said.

Martin said Tate continued to question her about what she could do to truly put an end to bullying. She decided to target children ages 4 to 7 and educate them about the dangers of bullying other children. She hoped reaching children at a young age would prevent them from bullying when they get older. 

“It’s never too late to change, but it might be harder for kids to change when they’re older — it might be too late,” Martin said. 

Martin’s “Shine Your Own Way” box has everything parents and teachers need to teach children a strong sense of self-worth and how to develop positive relationships with others. The box includes several children’s books about bullying that Martin wrote and illustrated herself, an educational brochure for parents and teachers, related activity sheets for students and even costumes so students can dress up and act out the stories in the books. She said the role-playing scenarios help children understand how it feels to be a bully, what it's like to be the bullied victim and how to stop a bullying situation. 

“One part of the project was to put it to the test and get feedback from the kids,” Martin said. 

So Martin took her “Shine Your Own Way” box to many pre-K classes to see if it was going to work. After reading the books to them and leading them through the activities, she felt like the students had a positive reaction to the program. 

 “I feel like I really got through to them,” she said. 

Tate said the Gold Award projects are meant to be something her Girl Scouts can continue to work on throughout their lives, even after they’ve graduated high school and moved on to college. 

The Canton Board of Aldermen had words of encouragement to offer Martin as they presented her with an achievement award and a key to the city. Mayor Mike Ray congratulated her for having the heart and the know-how to make a difference at such a young age. 

“If you can do this much at your age, imagine what you can do when you’re our age,” said Alderwoman Gail Mull.

Living in a world where it seems younger generations are only thinking about themselves, Alderman Zeb Smathers said, it was good to see Martin creating something that could help others be better people. While awards are great, he said, the true reward was in knowing that Martin made a difference in someone’s life. 

“Because of this, somewhere — you’ll never know their names — but a young child will learn something from this and your legacy will put someone on a different course,” he said. 

Martin wants to continue her efforts to reach as many children as possible. She said she is now working on getting her series of five books published so they can be distributed to schools all across the U.S. She also wants to use her Spanish-speaking skills to create bilingual programs about bullying. 

“I hope doing this project might help me get scholarships for school, and I hope the project continues to get much bigger,” she said. 

Martin exemplifies and is also teaching others the Girl Scout mission, which is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place.

After graduation, Martin has her eye on pursuing a career in construction management or industrial engineering since her main interest is in design. She currently lives in Canton with her parents, Eugenia and Margarito Martin, and her younger sister, Xitlali Martin.

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