Leiloni DePew (left) pictured with Joy Wheeler (right) Girl Scouts CEO. Photo courtesy of Laura DePew

Lynne Hermansen
Goals aren’t achieved overnight.
The worthy ones arent at least.
They take hard work, perseverance, dedication and sometimes sweat. Dreams can take years.
This is certainly the case for local Edgerton resident Leiloni DePew who recently received the Gold Award from the Girl Scouts organization and the NE Kansas NW Missouri Council.
The Gold Award is the highest and most prestigious award a Girl Scout can receive in the organization. It is often compared to being an Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts.
However, DePew said Boy Scouts perform a service project whereas Girl Scouts have to submit a project that can be used on a long lasting level.
“It has to be sustainable,” she said. “It has to go on without you being involved.”
DePew’s project was writing a 100 page instructional booklet titled, “OnStage”, on how to build an online theater program for schools with the basics of theaters.
She attended and graduated from Lawrence Kansas Virtual School and graduated a year early.
DePew said she attended the virtual school not because of COVID-19 but because public schools hadn’t been working for her.
“It was supposed to be temporary, but it worked really well,” she said.
DePew said however there wasn’t access to theatre.
“And I wanted people to have access to theatre,” she said.
DePew reached out to her neighbor, who is an art teacher, to help her buy the rights to a one act play “BackStage”. DePew also wrote her own play “Bad Auditions for Bad Actors”.
Theatre is a huge passion for DePew who started her own International Thespian Troupe at her school. The troupe functions similar to National Honors Society with points earned and so many many points earning a pin. One point is received for every 10 hours of theatre work and every 100 hours earns a pin. 50 earns an honor thespian n bar.
DePew was the President of her Troupe of eight members. She said a 3.5 GPA is required to be considered a VP Thespian Scholar. They participated in competitions involving solo musical theater, monologues, playwright and more at a recent Thespian Festival.
“If you get a one you go to the International level and receive a $5,000 scholarship,” she said. “I received twos.”
DePew is now considered a graduate of the troupe and recognized as anInternational Thespian alum. While she is no longer able to be an active participant she can be a judge, volunteer or advise.
A special banquet at the Overland Park Convention Center was held for approximately 50 high school girls or recent high school graduates who had achieved the Gold Award in 2021 or 2022. The awards ceremony was open to the public where girls read about their projects and have their gold award pinned on them by their parents. Her parents’ Laura and Larry DePew attended the ceremony and pinned her Gold Award.
DePew also received a scholarship from the four she had applied and interviewed for. The Spirit Scholarship is a couple thousand dollars for girls who are big supporters and advocates of Girl Scouts. The scholarship was started by Connie Davis, a current scout council member, in honor of her parents who were big supporters of her Girl Scout career.
DePew’s parents said their daughter receiving the Gold Award was pretty exciting.
“She put in a lot of dedication and time,” Laura DePew said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Larry DePew said they always supported and encouraged her interests including with coding and STEM.
“She was in a Girls in Computer Science Competition with all States and Puerto Rico a few years ago and made the Top 10 two years in a row,” he said.
DePew’s Girl Scout journey began when she joined in first grade as a Daisy following in her older sister’s footsteps. Her sister Laurissa also earned the Gold Award by writing a book about body image titled, “We are all Princesses.”
“I really liked it,” she said. “I liked the environment and felt comfortable. Our leader was into non-stereotypical things-camping, etc.”
The troop would fall apart when she was in middle school.
“We had a new leader who would just do crafts,” she said. “And we wanted to go do stuff. When girls get older they quit anyways. It wasn’t working out.”
This is when DePew decided it was best to be a Juliette Low. A “Juliette Low” is an independent Girl Scout without a troop affiliation.
“It’s becoming more popular with older girls,” she said.
DePew’s Mom Laura purchased a Girl Scout leader book and the two followed along. Any time there was a service unit project or event they would participate with the Gardner Edgerton School District Service Unit. One of those times was World Thinking Day.
“It was always a favorite event of mine,” she said. “I loved cultures.”
DePew participated in the cookie construction contest at Crown Center, attended camps and Disney on Ice and travelled to 49 of the 50 States. The one state she hasn’t been to—Hawaii.
DePew said if a girl is struggling to be social she should try to be a Juliette Low.
“It gives you more opportunities to meet people within the council,” she said. “Or try to find a troop with similar interests. Bring up ideas, speak up and share what you want to do. Girl Scouts is a great way to do things you want to do.”
The day the Gardner News visited Leiloni she was beginning her preparations for college in August. She was being introduced to her two year old service dog Callie who will be attending college with her and guiding her with her autism.
DePew will be attending Utah State in the Fall to major in Theatre Education before heading to Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. to receive a second degree in deaf education.
“I want to start a Troop for girls with disabilities mostly deaf,” she said. DePew said her best friend in 5th grade was deaf and they started a sign language club at school. She is currently fluent in sign language.
“I really connected with it,” she said. “I have an auditory processing disorder, and it helps my brain process better.”
DePew said she loves the opportunities Girl Scouts have given her and it helped with her autism, depression and anxiety.
“I’m not someone prone to trying new things,” she said. “I’m scared of heights but tried zip lining. It’s not my fave, but I’m proud of trying. I think without Girl Scouts I wouldn’t have tried things I love now.”
DePew said one of those things was engineering because public schools have stereotypes towards girls in the field.
“I don’t know if I would have been introduced if it hadn’t been for Girl Scouts,” she said. “I’m really big into Architecture right now.”
DePew said she discovered a new found love for cooking and baking in 2020 even though she had at first burnt butter because she got bored.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it,” she said. “But Girl Scouts gives you one small task at a time. I can do little parts and then it was really fun. I have the patience to cook things now.”
Her favorite things are cooking chilis and decorating cakes.
DePew said Girl Scouts also gives opportunities to connect with people in the field that aren’t available through school.
“Girl Scouts is a really great opportunity to try new things and meet new people,” she said. “It’s easy to be bored and lose interest, but you stick with it and keep going.”
DePew said it the organization is a great way to connect with people in the area that are so diverse but also people with common interests.
“It’s a great way to explore with yourself,” she said.
DePew offered advice for parents whose daughters want to participate in Girl Scouts.
“Be encouraging,” she said. “My Dad was always very involved. I always felt like I was a special girl because my Dad was there with me. There are stereotypes of Scouts. There are big supporters doing other things besides crafts. Having both my parents involved was very important. Ask kids what they want and a way even if it is hard. It starts with parents advocating for you.”
DePew said she believes Girl Scouts plays an important role in girls lives, and her and her Dad are working together to help it receive the same level of recognition that Boy Scouts receives. Leiloni said a lot of colleges don’t offer scholarships for Gold Award recipients especially the same way Eagle Scout award winners are recognized.
“With Girl Scouts you hear I “was” a scout,” Larry DePew said. “Every other organization is “I am”. We are talking to the council to change this.”
Leiloni DePew said she believes it is important to have a space just for girls.
“I knew a few girls who joined Boy Scouts for camping because they couldn’t do it in Girl Scouts but that is not true,” she said. “Boy Scouts was promoting that, but my Girl Scout journey hasn’t been like that at all.”
DePew said she thinks Girl Scouts is really important and offers opportunities to connect with other women that Boy Scouts doesn’t offer.
“It is important to have friends that are girls—you relate in different ways,” she said. “It teaches skills that mean a lot more from women who have faced challenges we have faced.”