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Girl Scout achieves Gold Award for building new garden, sensory walls at KCMO domestic violence shelter

Avery McKenna achieves Girl Scout Gold Award for work at Newhouse
Avery McKenna achieves Girl Scout Gold Award for work at Newhouse
Avery McKenna achieves Girl Scout Gold Award for work at Newhouse
Posted at 8:38 PM, Sep 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-19 00:33:48-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  — Avery McKenna enjoys being a Girl Scout with Troop 1899.

“I love spending time outdoors, I love the leadership activities, I love doing the service as well,” Avery said.

She has been a Girl Scout since joining in kindergarten as a Daisy.

Over the years, she’s earned patches and other forms of recognition for her hard work, but none more important than the highest honor, the Gold Award, which only 6% of Girl Scouts achieve the award.

This summer, Avery spent more than 100 hours working toward her award on a specific project, planting seeds to help victims of domestic violence living at Newhouse.

"I saw the possibility of a garden, I saw the possibility of the sensory walls and a nice used space outside,” she said.

Brittany Leathers, director of educational innovation at Newhouse, says the shelter is the oldest in the urban core.

“We serve not only women and children, and that’s what makes us special,” Leathers said. “We are a domestic violence shelter for people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations — anyone who is escaping a sense of domestic violence in their house.”

Newhouse offers an on-site school as well as an early learning center. Leathers says be providing free child care clients can more easily "focus on themselves."

Now thanks to Avery, the shelter offers a garden and sensory walls, too.

“This has just kind of been our backyard that no one really uses because there was just not the time and effort to be able to take care of it and make it a welcoming place,” Leathers said.

But when Avery got to work, she was able to put down roots for families in need.

“It’s three tiers — it has cherries, blueberries, tomatoes, potatoes, as well serval kinds of flowers,” Avery said. “Sensory walls on their fence, little boards that have things that they can hit and move and make noise and really appealing to all of their senses."

Her project is something Leathers says can help clients, especially the children, turn over a new leaf.

"You’re stuck with a bunch of people you’re just meeting and leaving a very traumatic situation, and coming to a place where you don’t know anyone can oftentimes add another layer of trauma to their situations," Leathers said. “It allows them to kind of escape reality, just sit in a moment and enjoy themselves."

Through working on the project and meeting clients, Avery feels she made "an impact for them, that I was teaching them and that they would take ownership of the garden and their space."

And from what Leathers has seen thus far, the fruits from Avery's labor are already flourishing.

“Our ultimate goal is to continue growing the garden and allowing our kids to learn about watering gardens and picking fresh fruit and being able to eat fresh fruit and vegetables,” Leathers said.

Reflecting on the completion of her project, Avery says she is happy to have helped.

“Domestic violence was really an issue that I didn’t know a whole lot about before I stepped into this project,” she said. “I think I’m so much better for it coming out of it. I got to see an issue that I didn’t really know was present in our community, and I helped make a lasting impact for many of the people who live there.”