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Girl Scout with autism plants garden to feed homeless, earn Gold Award

Daily News - 10/29/2017

When Ayiana Day feeds the homeless, she feels an unconditional acceptance she doesn't always get from the general public.

The blue-eyed and blonde 15-year-old who loves animals ? particularly mice ? has autism.

She is smart, athletic and has big plans that include college and helping other people with special needs.

But for now, she has her eye on the Girl Scout Gold Award, a goal she has worked toward for more than a year. The Gold Award is the highest award a Girl Scout can achieve.

Verbal communication, especially with strangers, sometimes presents challenges for Ayiana. So she stepped far outside her comfort zone, talking to people to secure a donated piece of land from Moose Lodge 356 to use as a garden and asking for seedling donations for the garden.

She used her allowance, birthday money and babysitting money to buy everything she was unable to get donated, and last spring she planted a fruit and vegetable garden to feed Bowling Green's homeless.

Ayiana is home-schooled and spends a great deal of time at the Warren County Public Library, where she has met many homeless people.

"I started talking to my homeless friends," Ayiana said as she sat at her kitchen table, stroking her dog Mia, a mixed breed she and her mother adopted from a shelter. "They said they were really grateful for the food they got, which was Vienna sausages, bologna and convenience foods. They said what they really missed was a cooked meal and fresh fruits and vegetables. So I decided I would do a garden with fruits and vegetables.

"I had a lot of help from my own Girl Scout troop," she said of Troop 1433. "They wanted to join in helping me to pull up the weeds and get rid of the hard dirt."

Ayiana grew zucchini, potatoes, carrots, peas, beans, cantaloupe, tomatoes, peppers and squash.

"I felt the homeless community was missing out on food they really missed and hardly ever got," she said.

Ayiana is drawn to helping the homeless because her mom, Amanda Day, has been homeless a couple of times in her life.

When Ayiana harvested her vegetables, she froze them and secured 71/2 pounds of donated top round from a local meat market.

"I knew if you had stew, it had to have meat with it," she said.

Ayiana and her mother cooked two large vats of vegetable and beef stew and fed the homeless behind the library late last month.

They also stopped at Fountain Square Park and another city park and fed people.

"Every drop of it went," Amanda Day said.

Ayiana also prepared snack bags to go for the homeless with food such as crackers, Girl Scout cookies and other snacks that the recipients could easily carry with them.

In addition to feeding the homeless, Ayiana decided to also shop for and provide homeless people with items such as new undergarments, women's sanitary products, socks, shaving foam, toothbrushes, cosmetics and body spray. Ayiana plans to continue her homeless outreach.

"One lady was hugging her and crying," Day said of a homeless woman who was overcome with emotion when Ayiana gave her a body spray.

"She wanted to smell good," Ayiana said.

"It made me feel important," Ayiana said of helping the homeless.

The general public sometimes makes her feel less important than others because she has autism, she said. Ayiana was visibly uncomfortable talking about that and quickly moved on to another topic.

"I felt very good that I could help the homeless," Ayiana said.

She plans to feed the homeless a hot meal using fresh vegetables once a month. She will be winterizing her garden soon to prepare it for next season. Some of the homeless people Ayiana fed are interested in working in the garden next year to provide for themselves.

Ayiana also organized a rock dig so the girls in her troop could paint rocks to beautify the Moose Lodge memorial garden honoring deceased members of the lodge.

"We got lots of different sizes," she said.

Ayiana, her mother and members of her troop pulled weeds and planted flowers for the memorial garden and placed the painted rocks in the garden.

Tymber Redd, Girl Scout leadership experience specialist for highest awards for the Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana, said the process of earning a Gold Award can take anywhere from six months to two years.

"It's a pretty difficult process," Redd said.

Only 1 million girls have earned the award since its inception in 1916.

Redd recognized that having autism could make the process more challenging.

"I think that is probably considerably more difficult because a large part of the process is community outreach," Redd said. Girls have to move beyond their peer groups to work on the project.

"That's something that would be definitely be a challenge," she said.

The next Gold Award ceremony will take place in the spring.

 
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