MORGANTOWN — Persistence was key for Caitlyn Costello when taking on the project that earned her the Girl Scout’s Gold Award.
“I was relieved, and then I was happy and excited,” said Caitlyn, an ambassador in the Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council. “You have to definitely want to do it and you have to be passionate about what you’re doing.”
Caitlyn is the first in her troop to earn the award, which is the highest honor within the Girl Scouts of the USA. To earn it, a Scout is required to develop a meaningful and sustainable project within her community.
In partnership with On Eagles’ Wings, a therapeutic riding center for individuals with disabilities in Fairmont, Caitlyn worked to create an equine-based program geared toward assisting veterans.
“It was really a joy to work with her,” said Carol Pettito, On Eagles’ Wings executive director and founder. “Because it was more of an intensive project, [we] really got to get to know her and how great her skill set is.”
Caitlyn has been a volunteer with On Eagles’ Wings for about five years. Pettito had previously mentioned wanting to develop a program for veterans, and Caitlyn thought it was a great opportunity to combine her love for horses and passion for helping the farm.
The project aimed to help veterans who face challenges such as head trauma, brain injuries or post-traumatic stress. Activities would include anything from visits with miniature horses to learning how to groom.
The project began in 2018, but several unforeseen challenges arose along the way. Initially, she struggled to find a veteran organization available to partner with. After meeting with multiple organizations, she was able to establish a relationship with the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg.
She began putting the plan into action, and in May 2019, Stormy, a miniature horse from the riding center, made her first appearance at the VA hospital.
Soon after Stormy made her fourth round to the VA Center, Caitlyn’s project was again put on hold. The FBI had begun an investigation into suspicious deaths at the VA Center, limiting Caitlyn’s ability to work with the hospital.
Hospital visits ceased for a few months, but Caitlyn did not let this time go to waste. She used it to develop horse personality profiles for the barn as a way to help visitors gain confidence in knowing the horses.
Eventually, Caitlyn was able to pick up hospital visits again, and hoped to expand the program even further. She began discussing the logistics with the VA Center, but it didn’t take long for COVID-19 to create another bump in the road.
“All of our plans are people-based,” she said. “When you can’t be around people, it makes it really hard.”
Although the original goal for the veteran program is still on hold due to COVID-19, Caitlyn hopes to see the program she developed return soon. Despite the circumstances, Caitlyn’s perseverance paid off and she was able to complete all the project requirements.
“She could have easily said, ‘You know what, there’s too many things going on and I quit,’ but she didn’t,” said Lisa Costello, Caitlyn’s mother and troop leader. “I was proud that she didn’t quit. That was the easier option and she didn’t take it.”
After committing more than 100 hours of service, Caitlyn officially earned the award in mid-January. While she is proud to achieve such a high honor, Caitlyn said seeing the impact her project had on the community firsthand is what made it all worthwhile.
“When we took Stormy to the hospital, it made everybody so happy,” she said. “You could just see the difference in people. It was definitely worth it.”