Local teen upholds family tradition after earning the highest honor given to a Girl Scout

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - To earn her Girl Scout Gold Award, 18-year old Claire Palmiter designed and supervised the assembly of four Little Free Libraries, like this one in Southeast Gresham.

Eighteen-year old Claire Palmiter is either repeating history or living up to her DNA.

This past summer, Claire completed requirements for the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor bestowed on a Girl Scout.

After building and installing four Little Free Libraries in Gresham, Claire managed to bring her family’s legacy in scouting full circle.

“(Earning the award) was mostly because of my brothers,” Claire said. “They were both getting their Eagles and my mom has a Gold, so I didn’t want to be the only one in the family without the highest award. It was more of a drive for me to accomplish it, rather than pressure from my family.”

The Girl Scout Gold Award continues a tradition begun in 1916, when young women undertook projects that improved their communities and ultimately, the world. It is equally as prestigious as the Boy Scouts Eagle Award, yet it’s mostly unknown among those outside Girl Scouts circles.

According to the Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington, only 5.4 percent of eligible Girl Scouts successfully earn the Gold Award. What that means is that of more than 19,000 Girl Scouts in the regional council, only 21 earned the prestigious award in 2012.

That puts Claire and her mother, Sally, in fairly elite company.

A 2013 graduate of Gresham High School, Claire joined the Girl Scouts as a third-grader. She's an avid athlete and outdoor enthusiast, who willingly admits she remained in the Girl Scouts program because she couldn’t join the Boy Scouts like her brothers.

“I continued through the program because it was the only way I could be a part of scouting,” Claire said. “I couldn’t go on scout outings with my brothers when they became Boy Scouts, because their scout master didn’t approve of siblings and girls on outings. After my mom became our troop leader, she tried to make Girl Scouts as outdoorsy as possible and she also got us chances to go to Boy Scouts events as a Girl Scouts troop. We had a lot of fun on the outings we had and I made a lot of memories.”

Claire has lost track of the number of merit badges she earned in the scouting program. She worked her way through the bronze and silver awards in junior high, before setting her sights on the prestigious Gold Award, which can only be earned by high school-aged Girl Scouts. According Claire’s mom, Sally, who earned the award in 1977, the process was entirely different.

“Claire had very different requirements than when I did it,” Sally said. “We had to get a certain number of merit badges before we could even apply for the Gold Award and we had to do projects that covered four different areas. It sounds like a lot, but they weren’t as complicated as they are now.” by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Palmiter, who now attends St. Martins University in Lacey, Wash., has lost track of how many merit badges she earned after joining the Girl Scouts in third grade.

Claire’s path to the Gold Award began with a “journey,” an exploration of the Girl Scouts core values as they apply to the real world. Her love of the outdoors inspired an environmental education project for her school.

“We made a presentation to the Gresham-Barlow School Board for a water fountain, where kids could refill their water bottle,” Claire explained. “There was a counter on the fountain that told how many plastic water bottles kids were saving when they refilled their own water bottle.”

In April 2012, Claire read a newspaper story about a local couple who built and opened a Little Free Library in front of their home. She went online to learn more about the program and discovered if she entered her hometown zip code, a map popped up showing locations for the little libraries in the area.

There weren’t many, she said, but the concept was intriguing.

“I liked the idea that you could walk up to something and take a book to read,” Claire explained.

To qualify for the Gold Award, applicants are required to make an 80-hour commitment to a project approved by a Girl Scout committee. They also must build a team of volunteers they supervise to aid in the project’s execution.

Claire enlisted her father to cut wood for four Little Free Libraries and found family friends interested in hosting libraries in their yards. She helped paint the individual panels, attached doorknobs and hinges and oversaw the libraries’ assembly. Her team then took to the streets.

“They delivered fliers to businesses and homes asking for book donations,” she said. “They did it again when the libraries were up and running to make sure there were enough books.”

But the project also had to show sustainability and future community engagement. Since Claire is currently attending St. Martin’s University in Lacey, Wash., she had to establish a system for continuance of the libraries in her absence.

“I went to the National Honor Society at (Gresham High School) and asked the members to make sure there was an ongoing book supply,” she said. “We set up a plan for a book drive when the libraries need more books.”

Claire checked up on the little libraries recently, during a weekend home from college. She was pleased to find them still well stocked and taken care of.

Her achievement as a Gold Award recipient will be recognized at a Girl Scout ceremony in the spring of 2014, when she joins the select few who have earned the honor before, and with, her.

“The biggest life lesson I learned through scouting is the power to be a good leader,” Claire said. “Whenever we had a task to complete or a problem to solve, I was always the first one on the scene. I enjoy getting people to work together to get the job done.”

To check out the locations of Gresham’s Little Free Libraries, visit

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