SBHS senior wins Girl Scout gold medal

Shelby O’Neil helps to combat waste, defend environment

San Benito High School student Shelby O’Neill won a gold medal for her campaign, pictured on this public transportation bus.

San Benito High School senior Shelby O’Neil on Oct. 9 was named a National Gold Award Girl Scout (formerly known as the National Young Women of Distinction) by Girl Scouts of the USA.

She is one of 10 young women who “channeled their leadership, passion, work ethic and creativity toward discovering innovative solutions for today’s most pressing local, national and global issues,” according to the Girl Scouts’ announcement.

“This year’s class tackled issues related to unnecessary plastic straws; human rights; mental health education; pollinator endangerment; menstrual health resources; art therapy; literacy; noise-induced hearing loss; girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); and veteran visibility and appreciation,” the announcement noted.

Representing Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast, O’Neil was recognized for founding the nonprofit Jr. Ocean Guardians to combat waste and defend the environment. Initiating a movement called No Straw November, she encouraged people who don’t medically need a straw to reject unnecessary plastic straws during November, because they’re a main source of ocean pollution.

As a result of her advocacy, O’Neil’s resolution proclaiming “No Straw November” in California was approved by the state legislature. She also conducted a letter-writing campaign to executives at prominent corporations, convincing a leading airline to formally discontinue its use of non-recyclable plastic straws and working with other companies to improve their sustainability practices.

O’Neil’s organization, with support from Girl Scout troops and notable environmental activists, has eliminated the use of millions of plastic straws and promoted reusable alternatives.

The 2018 National Gold Award Girl Scouts were selected from thousands this year who earned their Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can earn.

“By designing and implementing extraordinary projects of measurable, sustainable and far-reaching impact, these girls demonstrate a steadfast commitment, as well as a stunning ability, to create true change,” the Scouts’ announcement said.

O’Neil and the rest of this year’s class of National Gold Award Girl Scouts will be honored in New York City on International Day of the Girl Child (on Oct. 11), as their achievements tie in with this year’s United Nations’ theme of preparing girls for the world of work.

The National Gold Award Girl Scouts will receive a combined $100,000 in college scholarships from Susan Bulkeley Butler, founder of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Institute for the Development of Women Leaders and former member of the Girl Scouts of the USA Board of Directors; a combined $50,000 in college scholarships from the Kappa Delta Foundation; and a combined $50,000 in college scholarships from Arconic Foundation. Applications for the distinction were reviewed by a panel of previous National Gold Award Girl Scouts, leaders from a diverse array of fields, GSUSA executives, and a representative from the Kappa Delta Foundation.

“Our 2018 National Gold Award Girl Scouts demonstrate how girls are creating positive, sustainable change to improve their communities and the world,” said GSUSA CEO Sylvia Acevedo. “With their incredible aspirations, innovative problem solving, and risk-taking spirit, these girls are exactly the kind of employees 21st-Century companies are looking for.”

For more information about Girl Scouts, visit

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