APPLETON — Kaitlyn Powers joined Girl Scouts in kindergarten as a Daisy Scout. Twelve years later, she’s still going strong. This past summer, she completed a project that will help her earn Girl Scouts’ highest honor, the Girl Scout Gold Award.
“I’ve been in the same troop from St. Pius Parish since I started. We have girls that have also been in it since kindergarten, so it’s a tight-knit group,” said Powers, who is a senior at St. Mary Catholic High School in Neenah.
Girl Scouts can be time-consuming, especially as girls get busier with school and athletics as they enter junior high and high school. Powers is actively involved in her high school including playing varsity volleyball, but scouting has been worthwhile for her so she’s kept up with it. “What really made me stay in Girl Scouts is the community of leaders that it builds,” she said. “Girl Scouts really focuses on building girls’ character, courage and confidence and teaching them how to prepare. It really sets them up for a good future. I think it’s a great program for girls to grow up in.”
Powers’ troop earned the Bronze Award together, but she independently worked on earning the Gold Award, a goal she’s had since childhood. One of the award’s requirements is to set up a community-building event.
“I put a lot of thought into what I wanted to do for my Gold Award project. I realized last year that women’s safety is something that’s not really taught at school, yet it’s such an important issue. Girls don’t have much access to safety resources,” noted Powers.
“There are people all over the world that are getting attacked, and domestic violence is such a huge problem, and there’s violence on college campuses. I really wanted to combat that by giving girls the resources they need to know how to handle those situations, become survivors and get out before it’s too late,” she said.
A self-defense class Powers had taken a couple years ago helped shape her project. “I started with a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Appleton class called ‘Women Empowered.’ I realized how you can take control of your safety. You’re not powerless. You do have options,” she said. “So, I thought, ‘More girls need to be learning physical safety.’ I interviewed my friend’s parent, who’s a police officer, who talked about sex trafficking in Appleton — it’s an issue for everyone.”
The end product, a self-defense event called “Fearlessly Fierce,” which focused on domestic violence and human trafficking — how to spot the red flags of dangerous situations and escape them — was held July 17 at St. Mary Catholic High School. There was a four-hour session in both the morning and the afternoon with 40 high school- and college-age young women in attendance between the two sessions.
Presenters included representatives from Harbor House in Appleton, who talked about dating violence, recognizing warning signs in relationships and how to get out before a situation becomes dangerous. Officers from two police agencies did question and answer sessions. 5 Stones, a local organization that combats human trafficking, talked about sex trafficking and the signs that girls need to recognize in themselves or their friends before they get to a point where they can’t escape.
After those presentations, the girls went to the gym for a two-hour self-defense class. The morning group learned Fortitude Krav Maga, the type of self-defense the Israeli Defense Forces use, Powers said. The afternoon group learned Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. “The class was basic, but intense,” she said. “They learned some of the most important moves to know, like the most common ways people attack women, such as ponytail grabbing.”
Every girl in attendance received a tote bag. “It was filled with resources that I found about sex trafficking, stalking, self-defense, contact information for some of the people who were at the event, and they all got a T-shirt that said ‘Fearlessly Fierce,’” said Powers.
The items were donated by companies focused on safety and self-defense. Every girl also went home with at least one prize.
“These were things like personal safety alarms, key chains they can pull if they’re ever in danger that scream really loud,” Powers explained, “portable door locks, and hair tie scrunchies that turn into a cover that you put on a glass so you don’t have to worry about people putting stuff in your drink. Everyone at the event got an elastic bracelet that had a bead on it that can break glass. So, if you’re trapped in a car or a room with windows and you’re locked in, you can break the windows with this bracelet.”
Attendee surveys showed that the girls said they felt more confident after taking the class. “It’s really awesome to see how they were impacted by the people who were there showing them safety,” Powers said.
Another aspect of earning the Gold Award is that the project be sustainable, said Powers. “I made a curriculum of resources that can be included in a packet and handed out to schools and the different clubs like Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade, so pretty much everyone can have access if they want to run the event for their school or their group.”
Powers said her Catholic faith was instrumental in helping her realize the importance of empowering girls and women. “My faith helps me understand how valuable every life is,” she said. “The issues that I am trying to combat are harming those precious lives.”
Name: Kaitlyn Powers
Parish: St. Pius X, Appleton
Favorite Saint: Teresa of Kolkata
Words to live by: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt