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Mill Creek student awarded Girl Scouts' highest honor
Senior earns Gold Award for reading area project at children's shelter

Some high school students can brag of watching thousands of hours of television. But Mill Creek High School senior Christa Kelly can boast of something much better - completing more than a thousand hours of community service.

The teenager's dedication to service culminated in a three-month, 75-hour project to build a reading area for the Gwinnett Children's Shelter. For Kelly's outstanding service, she has been bestowed the highest Girl Scout honor: the Gold Award.

A Buford resident, Kelly has been involved with the Girl Scouts for more than 10 years. She has won numerous Girl Scout awards, but has had her eyes set on the Gold Award, an honor only 5 percent of Girl Scouts receive.

Kelly loves to read (particularly fantasy novels) and was nominated for Reader of the Year in 2008 by the Mill Creek High School media specialists. It was the love of reading that created a desire to spread the joy of books to other kids in her community.

Kelly noticed how the nearby Gwinnett Children's Shelter had a selection of books "needing updating." And so for her Gold Award project she decided to create a reading area for the shelter.

She reached out to the local community - her high school, middle school, church and family friends - to donate books and other materials. To her surprise, the community donated more than 1,000 new books.

"I was expecting barely half that amount," Kelly said.

In addition to giving the shelter books, Kelly wanted to create a good atmosphere for reading. She spent more than $200 on decorations to make a comfortable environment. Generous community members also helped. A parishioner at her church donated bookshelves, and a family friend donated large amounts of fabric that were used to make large pillows.

After presenting the completed project to the Girl Scout Council of Northwest Georgia in February, Kelly received her award and a $2,500 scholarship. She plans to use the scholarship to attend Gainesville State University. A banner still hangs in her yard, congratulating her for winning the Gold Award.

Ayisha Razzak, a former Gwinnett Children's Shelter employee who oversaw this project, called Kelly's effort a "great job." The reading area has been rearranged since its completion to be a part of the new Independent Living Program for girls ages 13 to 18. It is tentatively scheduled to open at the end of the month. Kelly said another Girl Scout troop plans to continue maintaining and updating the reading area.