This North Salem High School senior made life better for kids in foster care and earned her Girl Scout Gold Award along the way.
For children who enter the foster care system, the world can be scary and strange. For fifty local foster care kids it’s a little less so, thanks to North Salem High School senior and Girl Scout Troop 1054 member Maddy Martabano. To earn her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouts, Martabano spent the past year partnering with Fostering Hope Together (FHT). The organization is a local non-profit charity that services the foster care community.
“Knowing the difference that I could make in the lives of these kids, to make their transition to foster care easier, was so rewarding,” Martabano said.
Martabano’s project, "Kits for Kids," began about one year ago, just before Covid shut the world down. The idea was to thoughtfully package back to school kits and overnight bags filled with essentials for children entering the foster care system. Last February Maddy presented her project, along with plans for fundraising, to council leaders.
When the pandemic hit, all of her plans went out the window. Martabano quickly adapted though, shifting to online outreach. She shared her project with friends, family and community members, who quickly rallied to help contribute needed items.“Even restricted with Covid, the community was wonderful at helping Maddy give back, and allowed her to complete her project when she thought it might not happen,” said Jen Martabano, Maddy’s mom. “Perseverance, commitment, dedication…wonderful lessons learned in general and more specifically in a challenging time like this.”
In July, Martabano assembled back to school bags for FHT kids. While the organization holds an annual Backpack Drive, Martabano put her own spin on the effort, adding supplies she thought would be both useful and fun for kids of different ages. She delivered twenty brand-new backpacks filled with school supplies.
Last fall, Martabano was at it again, assembling bags with comfort items for kids who enter foster care. She assembled four versions of the kits, each customized to the unique needs of kids at different ages and stages. For infants, diaper bags were filled with swaddling blankets, pacifiers, wipes and toys. Toddlers received toddler-sized backpacks with a blanket, coloring book and crayons, and a stuffed animal. Comfort cases for older kids came in the form of a duffle bag that also included a blanket, drawing supplies and a stuffed animal, along with personal care items. Martabano delivered fifty of the cases to FHT.
“When we gave them the bags, [FHT] said how much it meant to them. They said the bags would be used by kids for more than six months,” Martabano said, explaining that foster kids often arrive in foster care with little more than the clothes on their backs. The Comfort Cases provide something that a foster child can call their own and help ease the transition into a new environment.
On March 15, Martabano will present her project to the Girl Scouts leadership council, via Zoom. This will be the final step in her journey to earning the Gold Award, an honor achieved by fewer than six percent of Girl Scouts annually.
For Martabano, earning the Gold Award marks the culmination of a decade spent as a Girl Scout. She joined in second grade, at the suggestion of a friend, and said that being a Girl Scout has been one of the most important experiences of her childhood.
“Girl Scouts is where I found my best friends, and where I learned about service to my community,” she said. The trips were plenty of fun, too. “One of my favorite memories was going to Savannah, Georgia, where the Girl Scouts was started.
Martabano’s mom added, “talent shows, day trips, overnight campouts and the trip to Georgia were the highlights. But the development of a commitment to service to the community was equally if not more important. From feeding the homeless to honoring our local first responders in an annual event to assisting younger troops with their Girl Scout journeys were all part of a bigger picture for Maddy. With the amazing leadership of her troop leaders Debra Rei and Jen Binette, Maddy blossomed into a strong and confident young woman.”