Girl Scout finds ‘golden’ opportunity at Madaras house

For Tory Babchak, it was a "golden" moment. The Wilton Girl Scout needed an idea for her Gold Award project, and she saw "how much Nicholas Madaras and his family impacted the community," she said. "When the Madaras family started 'Kick for Nick,' the whole community was extremely responsive with helping out and donating thousands of soccer balls. It was impressive. Then, I was reading the paper one day and saw an article about the Nicholas A. Madaras or Female Soldiers Forgotten Heroes (FSFH) home in Bridgeport — an offshoot of Kick for Nick — and knew right away that I wanted to do my Gold Award project there."

"I am so grateful to our military personnel," she said.

The Gold Award is "the highest honor" for Girl Scouts and less than 6% achieve this distinction, according to the Girl Scouts' website. It is similar to the Eagle Scout award for Boy Scouts.

"It was extremely important to earn my Gold Award Project," Tory said. "I have been in Girl Scouts for 13 years in Wilton and I wanted to be a part of the small percentage of girls who earn the Gold Award. They are different from everyone else — they show a confident personality and are smart and independent. I have always admired them and I wanted to be just like them."

Tory, then a senior at Wilton High School, scheduled a meeting with Nicholas Madaras' mother, Shalini. "I did not know him or his family but every person I talk to who knew him only has great things to say," Tory said.

As a lifelong book lover, Tory arrived at an idea for her project: a tall and completely filled bookshelf for the home, which is a transitional and supportive home for homeless female veterans in Bridgeport.

"Ms. Madaras said she wanted to see more education in the home and what better way to spread education than a good book," said Tory, now a student at Northeastern University. "Our good family friend, Kathleen Warner, was a big reason I did the project, too. She sat down with me and helped me plan out my project and contributed such great ideas. I got the books from local members of the community and the Wilton Library also donated a lot, too."

What is the value of providing books to these female soldiers?

"It is a way for them to get lost in a world besides their own, take their minds of things for a while," Tory said. "Reading is really important."

With the help of her father, Richard, Tory built the bookshelf. "We went out and bought all of the wood, paint, and other supplies I needed and built it in my basement," she said.

On Aug. 29, "Tory made her presentation to the residents on her project and placed this beautiful bookshelf in a perfect spot in the home with a wonderful selection of books in it," Ms. Madaras said. "Her enthusiasm and determination made quite an impact on our female veteran residents."

Tory didn't just stop with the books and the shelf. For each book, she "made a huge binder with a summary of each book and discussion questions for the women," she said. "It is a way to guide them through a book group so they have different topics to talk about, and it's one of the most important parts of the project."

To keep the project continually alive, Tory also arranged for Girl Scout troops in both Bridgeport and Wilton "to host an annual book drive called the 'Nick Madaras Holiday Book Drive.' They will donate a set of books to the home so that the women will always have new books to read," Tory said.

"Tory's project is a wonderful dedication to our servicewomen," said Ms. Madaras. "The bookshelf is beautiful. A lot of thought went into the book selection and reading club format so anyone who would like to lead a book discussion can do it without having any prior experience. This project provides another avenue for the community to come together in fulfilling our goal of healing and caring for our most valued residents ... Soccer balls and books to enhance the lives of others are a beautiful celebration of Nick's life."

Ms. Madaras added that the Gold Award is "held in such high esteem that, in any of the U.S. military branches, a Girl Scout who has achieved it will automatically be promoted by one rank."

In Tory's Wilton troop, number 50770, three Girl Scouts have achieved the Gold Award in the past three years, Tory said.

"I became a Girl Scout in first grade and the best part is how it lets girls step out of their comfort zone and do things that they would not normally do," said Tory, who was a member of the Connecticut Boat Club rowing team in Norwalk. "I have really seen a positive change in my personality throughout the years because I was able to take risks and grow as a person through scouting."

Tory said she has submitted her final report to the Gold Award committee and expects to hear within the next few months.

Her project has gotten positive reviews. Paula Fromm, Coastal Fairfield area chair of the Gold Award Committee for Girl Scouts of Connecticut, had high praise, saying, "Tory's project has been successful on several fronts. She has fulfilled a need for the 'Homes for the Braves Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes' by providing both a library area and creating a book club for the home. Also, she has raised awareness of the home and the female soldiers living there by recruiting Girl Scouts in both the Bridgeport and Wilton service units to continue to replenish the library during the holiday season. We are very proud of Tory for doing a project to benefit these women who have served our country and have sacrificed for all of us. Tory's project will be there for years to come."