A Middlebury Union High School senior has earned her Girl Scout Gold Award.
Maria Wiles, a Girl Scout since first grade, said she’s long been inspired by “those that keep a smile on their face even in times of struggle.” Following the death of Gary Griffin, a dear family friend and longtime deacon at Our Lady of Good Help Church, Wiles decided to create a religious education center in his honor.
The Gary Griffin Memorial Learning Center is a space for catechism teachers and students to gather. Noticing her church’s basement was unused and uninviting, Wiles said she was also concerned that many of the congregation’s younger members hadn’t been to church lately. Tapping in to her love of reading and knack for painting, the determined Girl Scout teamed up with members of the close-knit faith community to create an enduring and inviting learning center.
As part of her project, Wiles sought out donations of books, paint, and building supplies; gathered CCD students to complete a colorful mural; and oversaw teams of volunteers eager to lend helping hands. “For a long time, it has been difficult for the youth in my church to show older parishioners what they do,” she said. “With my project, I was able to bring to light not only my work, but how much each religious education student does in keeping the church going.”
With the Learning Center now fully operational, Wiles continues to raise community awareness of the center’s many resources via its website.
Meanwhile, a new youth group has already made the center its permanent home and is maintained by the members as part of their learning experience. “With my help, the religious education director was able to form this group and is bringing them to serve in places like Burlington and Brandon,” Wiles added.
As she looks to the future, Wiles said the lesson’s she’s gained in the Gold Award approval process has made college applications “a breeze.” She hopes to ultimately earn a nursing degree and assist at a hospital in Costa Rica, where she traveled last year as part of the Girl Scout Destinations Program. “Girl Scouts gave me that opportunity and my life will never be the same,” Wiles said. “Girl Scouts has empowered me as a woman and as a human being. Without it, I would never have had the hunger for service and learning that I do today.”