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Connie Chavez Villarreal

Woodlands Girl Scout Organizes Dance Clinic for Special-Needs Children

Girl Scout Senior Jennifer Van Der Horn organized a week-long dance clinic for a group of special-needs children to earn the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can achieve. Less than 5 percent of girls who join Girl Scouts earn this recognition.

“I learned about many disabilities I had never heard of before, and I learned to adapt the clinic to each child’s needs so they benefited the most,” says Van Der Horn, a student at The Woodlands College Park High School.

Earning the Gold Award is a significant honor that requires recipients to demonstrate outstanding leadership skills, career planning, community involvement and personal development. It takes more than 100 service hours and two to three years of intensive work to complete the award requirements, which include planning and completing a project that is a service to the community.

“I chose this project because I’m a dancer, and I view dancing as a way to express myself. To earn my Silver Award I made sensory quilts for babies with Down syndrome, to help them improve their tactile senses early in life. I’ve also had the opportunity to baby-sit special needs children. This is when I realized how much I enjoy working with children with disabilities,” explains Van Der Horn as to why she chose to hold the clinic. “I decided to expand what I learned through my Silver Award service project with my passion for dance.”

As part of her project, Van Der Horn recruited 10 volunteers who are also dancers, “buddies” she paired with the children, and two special education teachers who helped her train the volunteers. Together they taught the children basic dance steps and a dance routine from The Nutcracker, which children performed for their parents on the last day of the program.

“Jennifer had to assume leadership roles while preparing for the Gold award and it has helped her understand how to plan and work with people,” says Donna Van Der Horn, Jennifer’s mother. “I saw her confidence improve as she met with adults, trained her mentors (to work with special-needs children), interacted with parents and solved problems. She tapped into her creativity and used it to help others.”

Since she was 11 years old, Jennifer has been involved in the Girl Scout mariner program, which teaches girls about sailing. After high school, Jennifer plans to study meteorology at Penn State University.

Girl Scouts of the USA is the world's preeminent organization for girls, with a membership of more than 3.7 million girls and adults. Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. Chartered by GSUSA to provide Girl Scouting locally, Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council is one of the largest Girl Scout councils in the country serving more than 65,000 girl members and 17,000 adults in 26 southeast Texas counties. For more information call 1-800-392-4340 or visit

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Embracing and promoting pluralism is an integral part of every activity and plan of Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council, not disconnected or separate projects. Only individuals willing to accept and be educated about the basic tenet that Girl Scouting is for all girls may serve in volunteer leadership or staff positions.

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