Alicia Rollano of Point Pleasant Borough recently earned the highest honor in Girl Scouting for training her dog, Ginger, to be a therapy dog.
Only 5.4 percent of eligible Girl Scouts successfully earn the Gold Award. Alicia earned it by training Ginger to be a therapy dog that visits libraries where children read to dogs.
Many people associate the Girl Scouts with elementary school girls selling cookies, learning fun skills to earn badges and camping. And those are all important elements of Scouting.
But the Girl Scouts are in fact open to girls up to age 17, and also teaches scouts leadership and money management skills and community service.
To qualify for the Gold Award, a Girl Scout must come up with a project which benefits the community and demonstrates her organizational, leadership and networking skills.
Alicia, 17, had belonged to Girl Scout troops from second grade to her freshman year.
Then scheduling conflicts got in the way. Alicia was heavily involved in dance and cheerleading and didn’t have time to attend regular Girl Scout troop meetings.
But there is a way for girls with busy schedules to still stay involved in the Girl Scouts.
“I was a Juliette,” said Alicia. “As a Juliette Girl Scout, you can do projects on your own and at your own pace without belonging to a troop.”
Alicia decided to earn the Gold Award by training her dog, Ginger, to be a therapy dog to help encourage children to read.
The dogs visit libraries so children can read to them and pet them. Reading to dogs often encourages children to read who otherwise may not enjoy it.
Ginger is a medium-sized, tan-colored 11-year-old Welsh Corgi, which is a herding dog.
“Welsh Corgis are bred to herd sheep and cattle and Ginger would sometimes try to herd my sister and me when we were little by nipping at our ankles,” said Alicia, laughing “We taught her not to do that.”
“I needed at least 65 hours to earn the Gold Award,” Alicia explained. “So between taking Ginger to classes to become a certified therapy dog and training her, I made my 65 hours.
“You have to get your project approved by a committee and you have to do the hours to get the award,” Alicia continued, “So it’s important to like what you’re doing because you will have at least 65 hours of it.”
Ginger knew how to follow basic commands, but had to become certified as a therapy dog before she could work with people.
So Ginger attended the Kindred Souls Canine Center for her certification, where she learned how to handle herself in a crowd and conduct herself properly with other dogs.
After receiving her certification, Ginger was eligible to be registered with The Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs for therapy dog work.
Alicia then took Ginger to the Point Pleasant branch of the Ocean County library about once a month so Ginger could assist children who were learning to read.
“I’d take Ginger to the library so that little kids who are learning to read could practice on Ginger,” said Alicia.
“Ginger didn’t care if they read too fast or whatever, and the kids didn’t get intimidated by Ginger. They loved reading to her.”
Mary Ann Rollano, Alicia’s mother, said, “We worked on the project over a long period of time – throughout high school. But I think Ginger really liked it. She loves attention and she loves kids.”
Training Ginger was just one of the family's activities. Alicia is a swim instructor at Silton Swim School in Manasquan and Mary Ann owns a wholesale tea business by the name of MaryAnna’s Teas (www.maryannastea.com).
Alicia’s father, James, owns and manages buildings in Point Pleasant Borough. And Alicia’s sister, Elizabeth, who will be a junior at Point Borough High School, works as a lifeguard at Candlewood Pool Management Services.
Alicia plans to attend The College of New Jersey, where she will pursue a degree in Elementary Education, with a focus on Math, Science and Technology.
Her Gold Award included a $750 Stephen Keiffer Scholarship.
Alicia looks forward to the future, but will always remember her Girl Scout experiences and the positive impact the Girl Scouts had on her.
Alicia said all the work she had to do to earn the Gold Award was worth it, adding that Girl Scouts is a great organization for girls.
“The Girl Scouts is definitely worth doing, for college applications, for community service, to be involved,” said Alicia. "And I recommend that girls stick with the girl scouts.”