Katelyn Smart remembers all too well the setbacks she encountered trying to earn her Stars & Stripes Award.
The West Richland teenager initially planned to install basalt pillars with interpretive signs describing birds on the Audubon Trail in Columbia Park, but the yearlong approval process would cause her to miss her deadline.
Instead, Richland welcomed her to do the project at Goethals Playground, but it wouldn’t be easy.
The 17-year-old homeschooler and her volunteers had to dig the 3-foot-deep holes for the columns by hand.
“The first 2 feet weren’t that bad,” she said.
But now that the project is done, she said it was worth it — and earning the distinction of being the first member of the American Heritage Girls to receive the Stars & Stripes Award in Washington.
Katelyn joined the Scouting-like organization in the third grade, starting as a Tenderheart.
Troop 3130 was the first formed in the state and the only one in the Tri-Cities. The national organization formed in the late ’90s after several Ohio girls and their families left the Girl Scouts of America over differences regarding prayer at meetings and the involvement of Planned Parenthood.
“This is the organization that best met our objectives to develop skills and character with a Christian focus without controversy,” said John Smart, Katelyn’s father and her troop’s activities director.
While there is a spiritual element to the organization, Katelyn and her father said it still is largely meant to provide an experience similar to Scouting. The girls go on camping trips, earn merit badges and hold leadership positions.
The Stars & Stripes Award is comparable with the Eagle Scout award — one of the highest honors a Boy Scout can earn.
Earning the award has several requirements and steps.
Girls first apply with an essay and must already have earned their Dolly Madison Award. They then have to write another essay, hold a leadership position in their troop, have three people stand as witnesses to their character and earn 16 additional merit badges.
Then there’s the service project, which must take a minimum of 100 hours combined from all the volunteers involved. And all this must be done before the girl turns 18.
“My assessment is it’s harder to get the Stars & Stripes Award than the Eagle Scout award,” said John Smart, who was an Eagle Scout.
Along with contending with scrambling for a new location for her project and the conditions required by the city, Katelyn said she also had to raise about $2,500 and coordinate the other girls in her troop and volunteers.
“I should have started earlier,” she said. “There were changes in plans a lot.”
But she finished in time and recently had her award ceremony.
Her father said he confirmed with the organization’s national office that not only was she the 168th girl to earn the Stars & Stripes, but the first in the state. Officials with the national American Heritage Girls’ office in Ohio could not be reached Friday.
Katelyn, while planning to stay on as a young adult leader in the troop, is also now looking at how to further her education, possibly taking classes at Columbia Basin College.