Katie Berndt put on her khaki vest – dotted with the countless badges, keys and medals she has accumulated over the past 12 years – took a deep breath, and spent a brief second gathering her thoughts before staring out at her audience and beginning what she had spent months planning.
On Sunday afternoon, before a crowd of family and friends, Berndt unveiled her Girl Scout Gold Award project at William S. Hart Park in Newhall.
As Berndt began her opening remarks, the crowd quieted and gathered in a horseshoe-like shape with the 17-year-old Girl Scout at the center.
After a few moments, Berndt and her father removed the old, grey tarp that covered her creation – revealing a rustic bench, complete with vintage wagon wheels, honoring those who have lost their lives at the hand of reckless driving.
“I knew I wanted to build something for my Gold Award, and I knew I wanted to do something hands-on because I’m a hands-on person,” she said.
The Gold Award, she said, is the highest award given in Girl Scouts.
Although she had been planning her own Gold Award project since early January, an event that shook the Santa Clarita Valley in July served as the impetus for incorporating reckless driving awareness into her endeavor.
“Over summer one of my classmates from Hart High School passed away from a reckless driving accident,” she said. “That inspired me to incorporate that into my gold award.”
Berndt’s classmate, Colin Gore, was killed in a traffic collision near McBean Parkway and Decoro Drive in the early morning hours of July 4, 2017. He was hit head-on by a driver who was discovered to have been driving at excessive speeds.
Determined to ensure that this tragedy is never again repeated, Berndt decided to use her Gold Award as a platform to take action.
“Katie came to us, and she was good friends with the boy who died in the accident, so she wanted to tackle reckless driving,” said Melissa Pepe, Program Specialist for Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles.
In order to complete this project, Berndt needed to secure permission from Hart Park’s superintendent and to obtain the requisite funding needed for building materials.
Berndt envisioned an area of reflection within Hart Park; which included with the bench she unveiled in the ceremony, as well a wooden signpost labeled with numerous reminders to drive safely.
Slogans like “Fast drive could be your last drive” and “Be the Change,” were carved onto the sign.
The effects of her project, according to Pepe, extend beyond merely the tangible.
One of the key components of the Gold Award is leadership – applicants must exude exemplary leadership within their community. Berndt achieved this through outreach.
“She is also, as part of her project, educating fellow students at Hart High about reckless driving,” said Pepe.
Sunday marked the culmination of the months of hard work Berndt had dedicated to the project.
Friends, family and local Girl Scout officials came out to the ceremony to celebrate the unveiling alongside her. They smiled proudly, brought her flowers and a few even got up to speak.
“We make sure that each girl has a passion, that each project has passion,” said Gold Award Committee member Mamie Kosaka. “This project was close to Katie’s heart.”
It was this passion that helped Berndt through the difficult process of achieving her goal.
“Since I was younger I’ve always striven to have a Gold Award,” Berndt said. “As you get older it’s hard because everyone gets in their own separate things during high school.”
“But I knew I wanted to stick with it.,” she said. “It was something that was important to me.”