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Local Scouts visit Big Island of Hawaii

Girl Scouts are known for having big ideas and Celese Brune's troop of Mount Si High School girls is no exception. Just over a year ago, the girls spread out a world map and decided to go to Hawaii for 11 days over winter break during the later part of February.

"We went to Texas about three years ago and I knew if the girls wanted to go to Hawaii, they would make it happen and we would go," said Celese, a public education program specialist for the Cedar River Watershed Education Center.

Girls from three local troops joined forces. Travelers included senior Linnie McElroy, juniors Tephra Brune, Katie Stapleton, Camille Rankin, Cherise Athay and Becky Cullen and sophomores Haley Williamson, Courtney Johnson, Britta Nelson and Annie McElroy.

The girls held meetings to organize the trip and created and signed a contract outlining requirements for those taking part. They estimated the trip would cost about $1,500 per girl.

Fund-raising was first on the agenda. The girls agreed to actively participate in earning money for the trip; parents could not just open the checkbook. An "account" was set up for each girl for recording hours worked and money earned.

Selling Girl Scout cookies is the primary way Scouts earn money for activities. The troops also parked cars at Mountain Meadows, held car washes, sponsored Girl Scout workshops for younger Scouts, held a coupon drive and recycled Christmas trees. The girls contributed additional money by doing odd jobs.

The group chose to visit the Big Island of Hawaii because Celese had a contact there: her former boss is chief of interpretation at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. "An insider's connection made all the difference on our trip," Celese said.

Fellow leaders Julie Nelson and Stevie Boyd accompanied Celese and the girls to Hawaii, along with one brave male, parent Phil Williamson.

"It was so cool to get off the plane and be in Hawaii - it was suddenly tangible," said Tephra. "It was warm, the air smelled good, islanders were singing and it was gorgeous."

The group camped the first four nights, moving to a military-owned resort within the national park called Kilauea Military Camp for the remainder of the trip. Meals were provided so the group didn't have to cook, giving them more time to explore. "We saw a part of Hawaii that most tourists never get to see - we went beyond the stereotypical Hawaii that most tourists experience," Celese explained.

Each girl acted as leader for one day, planning the day's activities. Celese said, "It was good for them to go through the planning process and see how hard it really is. They really sweated it when it was their turn."

In typical Girl Scout fashion, the girls did a few service projects on the Island. One afternoon they planted native puki awe shrubs on the crater rim of the Kilauea volcano. Another day was spent four-wheeling down a primitive road to reach South Point Beach, an area where the strong current washes up massive amounts of debris. The group took on the huge task of cleaning it all up.

"The amount of respect we received on the Island was incredible and our reputation began to precede us wherever we went," Celese noted. "We were treated very well."

Days were filled with sight seeing. The girls hiked, swam, snorkeled and attended informative lectures, a traditional hula dance and a touristy luau. They enjoyed a picnic dinner watching red, burning lava flow into the sea as the sun set.

A highlight for the girls was the luau, where the emcee and dancers made the evening extra-special for the group. Questioning whether the girls really were Scouts, native dancers pulled Tephra and Rankin to the stage, much to the delight of the other girls.

High-school girls are teenagers, after all, and while leaders were using binoculars to search for the elusive honey creeper bird, they were amused to find Stapleton and crew using them to check out surfers catching waves.

Phil commented that he learned more about high-school girls than he ever thought possible. "The trip was a blast. There was so much laughter and singing - they sang all the time, everywhere we went. These girls were fantastic, full of positive energy and they treated each other so well. Everyone got along," Phil said.

The trip cemented friendships and created lasting memories. An experienced Hawaiian traveler with grandparents living on Maui, Haley has been to the Hawaiian Islands more times than she can count. "I've been over here at least 10 times, and this was one of the best trips of my life," she said.

Goal-oriented Girl Scouts can make anything happen. "Don't give up your dream," Tephra offers as advice to younger Scouts. "Keep working, keep fund-raising. With hard work you can go anywhere."

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