ETSU’s Natalie Wood receives accolades for Girl Scout food pantry project

Published 12:24 pm Monday, March 11, 2024

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Filling a need in her community

A first-year student at East Tennessee State University is already making a significant impact in her hometown. She’s just getting started.

Natalie Wood of Knoxville first started in Girl Scouts as a Daisy when she was in kindergarten, following her older sister’s footsteps.

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“My sister was a Girl Scout, so when I was old enough, I thought I should do it, too,” Wood said. “I’m not a big camper or outdoorsy person, but it was fun and I’m very glad to have gotten the opportunities I did from Girl Scouts.”

Through the years, she enjoyed volunteer activities, becoming certified in CPR and more.

When it came time to work toward one of the highest honors in Girl Scouts – the Gold Award – Wood established a community food pantry at her church, filling a need she’d heard about through others in the church.

This project involved developing a vision, marshaling community support, learning about and ensuring compliance with food safety standards, creating operating manuals and procedures, enlisting and training volunteers and more.

“We have the food pantry the third Saturday of every month,” Wood said. “When we started out, we didn’t have as many people coming, but since then, we’ve been able to help a lot of people in the area, including some at our church. We’re partnering with Second Harvest (Food Bank) now, and so we’re able to get some of our food from there at reduced cost.

“I was able to go back home over the break and participate, and it was a really good experience. We were able to give away Christmas-related and holiday foods, and it was nice.”

“In establishing the food pantry at her church, Natalie learned valuable leadership, communication and collaboration skills,” said Dr. Jennifer Axsom Adler, an assistant professor in ETSU’s Department of History who serves as chair of the board of directors of the Girl Scouts Council of Southern Appalachians (GSCSA). “She came to appreciate how food insecurity isn’t just a local problem; it’s a global issue. She’s thinking globally and acting locally, reminding us that we can all do our part to make the world a better place, one community at a time.”

Not only did Wood launch a service that helps her home community, she also qualified for a prestigious honor that is helping her pursue her education.

The national Girl Scouts organization recently established a new scholarship recognizing outstanding Gold Award projects, providing a $10,000 award to one Gold Award Girl Scout from each Girl Scout council in the country. Wood became the 2023 recipient of this Gold Award Scholarship from GSCSA, which covers 46 counties in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and North Georgia.

“I was very shocked and excited to receive this scholarship,” Wood said. “I wasn’t really expecting it, and it just made me excited that I’d be able to put that toward school and that other people were seeing my work.”

In addition to her Gold Award scholarship, Wood, who is thinking of majoring in Spanish, is a student in the Global Citizen Scholars program of ETSU’s Honors College. This program prepares students to make positive impacts both in their communities and in a rapidly changing global society.

She is one of the many ETSU students earning prestigious scholarships, and the university has signaled a new commitment to helping students compete for competitive awards both in the United States and abroad.

While looking forward to studying abroad in France this summer, Wood already enjoys the things she’s learning as a Global Citizen Scholar.

“I’m very glad to be in this program. I was very nervous about coming to college, not knowing many people, but I participated in the BUCS Academy over the summer,” Wood said. “That definitely helped me make friends before school started, but Global Citizen Scholars has led me to other friends. It’s been nice to get to know more people.”

Wood is also participating in ETSU’s Emerging Leaders Academy and the school’s chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America. In her spare time, she enjoys watching TV and movies with friends, reading, listening to music and playing piano and guitar.