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To earn Gold Award, Shelly remembers vets

MADISON – To earn Girl Scout’s Gold Award, McKenna Shelly wanted to honor people, specifically military veterans.

Shelly was motivated for the Gold Award, Girl Scouts’ most prestigious achievement, after investing 13 years in Scouting. “Accomplishing that final goal was important to make all those years of hard work go towards something to better my community,” she said.

To honor veterans, Shelly tackled the lack of retreats or weekends for North Alabama veterans. Madison American Legion, Post 229 wanted to provide retreats but needed someone to spearhead the program.

Shelly planned and implemented the first annual Veterans Retreat in partnership with Madison American Legion. “Marketing materials, recruiting financial sponsors, registration, staffing, schedules, budgets and supply lists are now available for American Legion to reuse for future events,” Shelly said.

“The date for the 2024 Veterans Retreat has already been set. I’m excited the project has taken off, and we can continue it,” Shelly said.

Shelley is a member of Troop 926 with leaders Jean Downs and Andrea Johnson. Mary Downs, Olivia Downs and Kassidy Tidwell also were tremendous help with facilitating weekend activities.

During the weekend, veterans chose from options that appealed to them, thus promoting relaxation. “We had target sports, like archery, knife throwing, axe throwing and slingshots. We offered boat rides on Lake Guntersville and had kayaks, paddleboards and canoes available, as well as fishing,” Shelly said.

Veterans could enter military-themed contests for trivia, physical challenges and teambuilding scenarios, like an MRE-eating contest (Meals Ready to Eat). “The challenge course was one of the most enjoyed activities. At the lodge throughout the weekend, we had paracord crafts, board games, yard games and the pool,” Shelly said.

Shelly’s project lifecycle ran from March to August, ending with the retreat weekend. She invested 102 hours in her Gold Award project.

Shelly’s supplies included participants’ T-shirts, along with banners, patriotic decorations and camp supplies. “I wanted a low-cost weekend for the post to maintain in the future, so, instead of building anything new, I used resources already available at Camp Trico, including target sports, canoes, kayaks and swimming,” she said.

The Veterans Retreat created new friendships and connections between veterans and their families. “They bonded on similar and different experiences each went through as both veterans and family members,” Shelly said.

After graduating from James Clemens High School in May, Shelly attends Samford University. Her major is communication sciences and disorders with a focus in speech language pathology.

At James Clemens, she was an Archery Team Captain and clarinetist in the Jets Band. She participated in National Honor Society, plus national societies for science and for technology, HOSA future health professions and Paws for a Cause.

She earned numerous top-shooter awards for archery and qualified for HOSA’s State Leadership Conference.

Shelly enjoys the outdoors . . . in experiences from Girl Scouting, like backpacking, hiking and water sports. She also likes listening to music and visiting friends.

“My mother, Julie Shelly, is a paraprofessional, and my father, David Shelly, is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and currently a JROTC teacher,” McKenna said.

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