FAIRHOPE — Old. Torn. Dirty.That was the condition of an American flag Rachel Marlow, of Fairhope, noticed as she rode in the car with her mom.Marlow is a military kid. At the sight of the …
FAIRHOPE — Old. Torn. Dirty.
That was the condition of an American flag Rachel Marlow, of Fairhope, noticed as she rode in the car with her mom.
Marlow is a military kid. At the sight of the American flag in that state she couldn’t stop herself from saying, “I wish I could fix that.”
Then her mom said the words that put things into perspective.
“Well, you know, you can.”
Marlow is a Girl Scout in Troop 8017. At the time of the car conversation, she was searching for inspiration for her Gold Award project.
And she decided to help her community help the American flag.
“My Gold Award project was to collect flags that are in need of retirement,” Marlow said. “When I was really young, I saw a flag ripped. I told my mother how bad it was, and we discussed how we could fix it.”
What was set in motion was a year-long endeavor to craft flag retirement boxes.
First, Marlow headed to the Fairhope VFW to speak with the officers and gain approval for her project. Then, old newspaper stands were donated. Marlow invited her troopmates to her home, where together they cleaned the paint off the stands and gave them new life as flag retirement boxes.
“We are so very proud of Rachel,” said Karlyn Edmonds, CEO, Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama. “She had such a wonderful project. We talk a lot about the importance of patriotism and community service, and this project marries both of those things. There are so many flags that are sitting in people’s closets or that need to come down and be replaced, but people don’t know what to do with them.
"So, offering them this option, while teaching our Girl Scouts how to properly retire them in a way that’s respectful to the flag is important,” she said.
As part of Marlow’s project, she performed her first flag retirement ceremony with her troop. Edmonds said the younger girls were captivated. The adults were emotional.
“It was beautiful showing that level of respect for the flag,” Edmonds said. “It was a special moment. It was special to Rachel personally, but there was also beauty in that she wanted to do something and to share it with others, and that’s a promise to the future.”
The Gold Award is the highest award in Girl Scouts. It is open to Girl Scouts in grades nine – 12 and requires 80 hours of service. Girl Scouts must “discover, connect and take action” to achieve their Gold Award.
“They have to look around their community, identify a need and decide what to do to address that need, and then put that into action,” Edmonds said. “One of the most important parts is it has to be sustainable. They can’t just come up with something and it’s a one-off kind of thing. It has to be sustainable.”
She said some Girl Scouts host fundraising events for their projects. They enlist volunteers from their friends, troop and school to assist with making their idea a reality.
“Nobody does their project all by themselves,” Edmonds said. “So first they identify the need, develop the program and plan, go before a committee to have it approved, implement it, then come back and speak to the committee on how their project turned out. It embodies a tremendous amount of work. Just getting started is a huge thing. There’s a very small percentage of Girl Scouts who achieve their Gold Award.”
Edmonds said receiving a Gold Award could have a lasting impact on someone’s life. Former Girl Scouts have told her that they’ve received job opportunities when employers saw the Gold Award listed on their resumes. They enter the military at a higher rank. They receive scholarships.
“One of the great things about the Gold Award and Girl Scouts in general is you watch these girls learn leadership skills that will last them a lifetime, you watch them grow from quiet little girls to confident young women ready to take on the world’s challenges, and it’s exciting to see them grow,” Edmonds said.
Marlow’s flag retirement boxes can be found at the VFW Post 5660 on Nichols Avenue, in Fairhope, the Girl Scout office in Mobile and at the headquarters of Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama in Montgomery.
“These could help hundreds of flags that need to be retired properly,” Marlow said. “That thought makes me feel very happy.”
Marlow graduated from Fairhope High School earlier this year. In the future, she plans to become an artist, putting her talents towards animation, comic art or as a painter.
Her final message for up-and-coming Girl Scouts is straightforward and effective.
“Just help your community,” she said, “in any way possible.”
Editor's note: Rachel Marlow is the daughter of Allison Marlow, the managing editor of Gulf Coast Media, which publishes The Baldwin Times.