Elena Martinelli was nervous.
This was something she was proud of, but not something she necessarily broadcast.
How would her classmates react?
“You’re still selling cookies as a teenager?” she imagined them saying of her Girl Scouts affiliation.
But, no, this was bigger than that. Martinelli no longer hawked Peanut Butter Patties outside her local grocery store.
This was her Gold Award project, the pinnacle of Girl Scouts achievement. This was an opportunity to make a difference in the world. This was a chance to enlighten her classmates and, maybe, inspire them.
So, suppressing her nerves, Martinelli made seven presentations to Trinity Classical Academy classes on human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking, and what the students could do to aid young women who were newly rescued in the greater Los Angeles area.
Martinelli, a senior track and cross country athlete for the Knights in 2016-17, received the Gold Award last June after donating 43 backpacks full of daily necessities to The Dream Center’s Human Trafficking Program.
For anyone who would question her commitment to the project, consider this: Girl Scouts suggests the project consume at least 80 hours. Martinelli put in over 155.
Asked about Martinelli the athlete, one word populated Trinity track and field coach Brian Bixler’s mind.
“Tenacious,” he says.
Martinelli needed that mentality when it came to her Gold Award, a project that challenges high-school girls to “change the world.”
A scout since the third grade, Martinelli enjoyed building a second family with her troop, while earning her Bronze and Silver awards.
For the bronze, her troop sowed hats and scarves to give to patients in the oncology department at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
For the silver, she worked with domestic violence victims.
It’s hard to believe she ever faced a setback like she did en route to the gold.
Beginning in January 2014, she worked with an organization to bring to life her DreamPack Project, in which she planned to create a sex trafficking awareness campaign and move the community to act by assembling backpacks filled with items for young women newly rescued from sex trafficking.
It was a subject Martinelli had long been at least generally aware of. Her mom, Kelly, is a 20-plus year veteran detective of the Los Angeles Police Department.
For four years, Kelly worked on the abused child unit out of the juvenile division, which investigates physical and sexual abuse and homicide.
“It made me passionate to want to purse the same justice that my mom obtained,” Martinelli says, “and show the same compassion in a way that changed public perception of those women who often are viewed as wiling participants (in sex trafficking) when in reality they are abused and coerced into staying in captivity.”
Then, after eight months of planning, the organization Martinelli was working with pulled out.
“Oh yeah, that was frustrating,” she says. “I remember being to the point of thinking I didn’t want to do it all over again.”
In the following months, though, like a runner tripped up in the early going who finds her footing and presses on, Martinelli revived her dream.
She began working with The Dream Center’s Human Trafficking Program, which partners with law enforcement to provide safety and immediate crisis aid to victims of human trafficking.
Martinelli designed brochures and bookmarks and produced a video to inform her church and school community about what she called “modern-day slavery.”
In addition to her presentations at Trinity (instead of mocking her, students wanted to get involved), she spoke to multiple church groups.
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Donations of clothing, toiletries, Bibles and notebooks began flowing in.
“It was really amazing to see the support for the project,” says Martinelli, who purchased 200 backpacks emblazoned with the logo she’d designed (some of the funds for the backpacks came from a yard sale).
Classmates helped her pack the bags with the donated goods that included sports bras, sweatpants and toothbrushes, among other things.
Fifty-five backpacks were put together in all.
On March 1, 2016, Martinelli delivered the backpacks to The Dream Center.
Three months later she received her Gold Award, placing her in the upper-echelon of Girl Scouts.
That’s not to say, though, she’s too cool to sell cookies.
“I sell them to friends and family,” she says, “texting people asking them if they want cookies.”