A life-long Robbinsville resident has crossed over her final milestone as a Girl Scout after completing the highest award in the global leadership development program for girls.
Jenna Soliman has been part of the Girls Scouts of Central and Southern New Jersey since she was in kindergarten.
Between 2018 and 2019, Soliman completed her Gold Award project, a Spanish high school equivalency exam prep program in Trenton through a local nonprofit, the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
“My mom was in Girl Scouting for a little bit when she was younger,” Soliman said. “So I think it was just kind of a way for me to get involved and meet people and meet girls my age in the beginning and then as I got older I got more into it myself.”
This year marks her 13th year as a Girl Scout. An adventure and commitment that has taught her leadership skills along with other readiness in areas such as camping, community service and teamwork.
Soliman has worked her way up from Daisies, the first level of involvement, all the way to her Gold Award. This achievement is the highest award bestowed on hardworking Girl Scouts and is at least a year-long project that the Girl Scout designs, develops and finishes on her own.
Soliman began sifting through different project ideas in the summer of 2018. Around that time she met with executive director at LALDEF at that time Adriana Abizadeh. She knew of the organization because her brother had held an internship there in the past.
During the sit-down, Soliman didn’t know what to expect. They went over what the nonprofit’s needs were and what she could potentially help with.
LALDEF had been tasked by the county to create a Spanish-language program for high school equivalency. There were GED and exam prep courses offered in English in the Trenton area but a Spanish-based course was lacking.
Soliman decided to take on this issue for her project after some thought. She knew it would be a lot of work in a subject matter she wasn’t too familiar with but saw it as an opportunity to put her years of Spanish classes since middle school to use in a real-life situation.
“They already kind of had an idea of how to run classes like this, but they didn’t have the curriculum and the program and the teachers and kind of the structures to do it,” Soliman said.
After deciding to move forward with this project idea, Soliman met with Leanna Jahnke, LALDEF’s adult education coordinator at LALDEF at the time.
Soliman and Jahnke, along with a volunteer who ended up being a teacher in the created program, worked closely on the project throughout the year.
In early fall of 2018, Soliman presented her project to a council consisting of Girl Scout executives and past Gold Award recipients. The meeting was held at the West Windsor Branch Library in Princeton Junction. Soliman received approval on her idea directly following the review.
Over the next year, Soliman and her team developed a curriculum, recruited volunteer teachers and reached out to potential students for the high school equivalency prep course.
It started as a massive research project, Soliman said. Eventually in-person teacher and student orientations were held.
“That was pretty cool seeing it kind of go from this thing I’m doing by myself or with a couple other people to this program with real students and real teachers, that’s really impacting people,” Soliman said.
She remained a part of the project through the fall of 2019, when the first phase of classes for math was held. The first class was 10 students and consisted mostly of women ranging roughly from 20 to 40 years old from the Trenton area.
LALDEF has since taken over the program and is currently open for enrollment for reading and writing HSE courses. The reading and writing sections were intended to start in May but were pushed back to this fall due to the pandemic. The classes are only offered in person.
To become a Gold Award Girl Scout there is a seven-step process that is followed.
First, a Girl Scout chooses an issue to address with her project. The next three steps consist of extensive research, forming a support network and creating a plan. Once the plan is in place, it is presented to a Girl Scout council. Once approved, the project is carried out and then shared to educate others of the completed work.
This year’s class of Gold Award recipients needed to submit their work by March. The Girls Scouts of Central & Southern New Jersey hand-delivered award packages to Gold Award recipients July 10. The delivery included a Gold Award pin, Gold Award patch, a certificate and letters from executives in the Girl Scouts and Sen. Cory Booker. A virtual celebration was held July 17, featuring the executive director of the Historical Society of Princeton Izzy Kasdin as its keynote speaker.
Robbinsville resident Samantha DeMartino, who was profiled in the Advance earlier this year, also earned her Gold Award this year. Robbinsville does not have an animal shelter, so DeMartino decided to start at pet rescue club at Robbinsville High School. The two-year-old club partners with the Pet Rescue of Mercer.
After completing her Gold Award, Soliman applied to be a National Gold Award Girl Scout. Every year the Girl Scout organization chooses 10 projects to receive this title. Soliman applied and was one of three girls nominated by the Girl Scouts of Central & Southern New Jersey for consideration. Decisions on the 2020 National Gold Award Girl Scouts are still pending.
Soliman has been with the girls in Troop 71767 since the very beginning. The connections and friendships she formed is something that will last forever.
“It’s very much a sisterhood,” Soliman said. “I got to meet a lot of girls that I don’t think I ever would have met or gotten to know otherwise through Girl Scouts. And that’s kind of been the most valuable thing for me.”
Although Soliman has grown up in Robbinsville, she lives close to the Hamilton border. She attended Yardville Elementary School and Reynolds Middle School. She graduated this May from the Pennington School and is set to be at Drexel University this fall.
Soliman will be entering college as a music industry major with a Spanish minor. Working with LALDEF and forming a HSE Spanish-based course for her Gold Award was a major part of her decision to add her minor. After working with native Spanish speakers in her community she hopes to become fluent in the language.
“I really feel like I learned the most during my time as a Girl Scout while completing my Gold Award, about leadership and kind of about my own strengths and weaknesses, about speaking Spanish,” Soliman said.