The ‘gold’ standard

Sarah Pilto of Burns Township received the Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouts.

BURNS TWP. — A new Byron High School graduate has achieved the most prestigious award in Girl Scouts for creating an after-school club that’s the first to serve the local LGBT community.

Sarah Pilto of Burns Township won the Gold Award, which requires dedicating at least 80 hours to addressing a community issue or problem through a sustainable community project.

She chose to start the club, called the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), because LGBT issues “are constantly arising,” she said.

Also, helping students is a passion of hers, she said.

“I’m going into high school education,” Pilto said. “I don’t ever want a student of mine to feel alone. Also, I have gone through bullying myself. But that’s in the past, and it’s shaped me into who I am today.”

The club took some heat from fellow students between the time it was announced in September 2018 and held its first meeting two months later, she said. There have been no problems since.

“Change, no matter what it is, is scary for everybody. There’s fear, people are uncomfortable,” Pilto, 18, said. “Things were a little rough at first. We had pushback from students because of the nature of our high school — it’s a small, rural high school.

“But,” she continued, “students who have attended meetings have seen a drastic change within themselves and the outside.”

The GSA aims to provide resources and a safe space for students in any grade to connect and form alliances with other students who want to encourage inclusion and understanding. An average of 20 students have attended the twice-monthly meetings, and club officers are in place to keep the program going next fall.

At the last meeting of the school year, Friday, a sixth-grader who identifies as LBGT and “got picked on a lot” after he came out in December told fellow club members how much the group had helped him.

“He was down after he came out. He didn’t know if that had been a good idea,” Pilto said. “We reminded him that his parents love him, that we care for him and that you have to live your life 100 percent. Yesterday, he shared with us how the high-schoolers who cared really helped him out.”

Pilto, who served as club president until she graduated, expressed hope the GSA will continue without her.

“I hope the club plays an important role at Byron High School, that it stays around and that more students will feel comfortable, and be able to attend and provide support,” she said.

Pilto navigated a long process to make the club a reality. First, the Girl Scout Council had to approve her plan. Then, Pilto worked with her high school principal and district superintendent, obtaining permission to move forward. She also consulted with a mental health expert who provided resources and other information to help Pilto get started.

She is among 25 Girl Scouts recently honored by Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan with the Gold Award.

“Earning the Girl Scout Gold Award is truly a remarkable achievement, and these young women exemplify leadership in all its forms,” Denise Dalrymple, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan, said in a news release. “They saw a need in their communities and took action. Their extraordinary dedication, perseverance, and leadership are making the world a better place.”

Pilto, a scout for 12 years, said she was inspired to attain a Gold Award by family members. Her father, Dwayne Pilto, and brother were both Eagle Scouts.

“Scouting has been part of my life for practically my whole life,” she said. “Through my Gold Award project, I’ve learned to go with my gut, even when my ideas were not popular.”

Pilto is a member of Troop 76083, whose troop leader is Trish Wells. Her mother is Amy Pilto.

Sarah Pilto has enrolled at Northern Michigan University, where she plans to study secondary education and integrated science.

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