Every year, Girl Scouts of the USA selects 10 exceptionally inspiring Gold Award Girl Scouts, nominated by the 111 Girl Scout Councils nationwide, as National Gold Award Girl Scouts.

This honor is given to Girl Scout Seniors and Ambassadors whose Gold Award projects demonstrated extraordinary leadership, had a measurable and sustainable impact, and addressed a local challenge related to a national and/or global issue. One eastern Missouri Girl Scout has been recognized this year as a National Gold Award Girl Scout—congratulations, Lauren Vanlandingham!

Driven by a diagnosis that affected her family among millions of others around the world, Lauren addressed the mental and emotional health of cancer patients and their caregivers. She initiated a letter-writing campaign ultimately delivering thousands of hopeful messages to patients, survivors and family members. To increase her reach, Lauren developed an interactive website as a platform where people can write or request a letter.

Determined to ensure the longevity of her message, this G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ then authored and distributed a book, Stories of Hope: Be the Light, which includes 10 individuals’ stories and advice to those looking to inspire a loved one with cancer. Lauren’s book is available for purchase on Amazon—she uses the proceeds to print and donate copies to doctor’s offices and oncology centers across the nation.

Lauren, now a Girl Scout alum and freshman at Ole Miss, took the time to answer some questions about her passions, favorite Girl Scout experience and Gold Award project.

GSEM: Let’s start at the beginning of your Girl Scout experience, when did you join Girl Scouts?

LV: I was in first grade! I had a friend in class and her mom was going to start a troop so I thought it would be interesting to join. It started out with five of us and when we graduated high school, there was seven. But the five of us who joined in first grade were all together until the end of high school. That was really cool to me! Over the years, we learned to adapt our lives so we could still make time for Girl Scouts. As we got older, we decided to meet on Sunday nights because we never had anything going on then. We’d have family dinner and then head over and work on projects like the Gold Award.

GSEM: What’s your earliest, favorite Girl Scout memory?

LV: I can remember this one so vividly. I want to go into the business side of medicine and Girl Scouts helped me find this passion through the Girl Scout Cookie Program®. One year we were organizing a booth and it was around Mardi Gras so I used the cookie packages that were yellow, purple and green to advertise. I think I was in second or third grade!

What I like about the Girl Scout Cookie Program® is that it gives you a set of guidelines but there’s a lot of room for creativity. There are very few limitations as to what you can do. There are always helpful hints to get you started but then it’s up to you!

GSEM: Do you think the Girl Scout Cookie Program® had an impact on how you approached earning the Girl Scout Gold Award?

LV: It did set me up for success when earning the Gold Award! It gave me a lot of confidence! I learned that if I had a creative idea and worked on it, it could be successful! So, when I worked on my Gold Award project, I had the confidence to tackle any challenges. I decided early on that I was going to write a book for the cancer community, but I didn’t know how to use any of the software needed to do that. I questioned how I was going to teach myself how to do this but ended up watching a lot of YouTube videos!

GSEM: What advice would you give to those in the beginning stages of earning a higher award?

LV: I think many girls that are going for the Bronze, Silver and even the Gold Award look at them like it’s some big project! But we often forget that these big projects consist of smaller projects and those smaller projects are very manageable and fun. Just plan it out!

GSEM: G.I.R.L. stands for go-getter, innovator, risk-taker and leader, is there one letter you associate with more?

LV: Go-getter! I’ve always been excited to try new things but to work hard! I think that really encompasses what a go-getter stands for!

Thanks, Lauren! We can’t wait to see what you accomplish next!