- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2001

Most days, aspiring artist Suhani Vakil of Reston, Va., can be found wearing worn, torn jeans and a nondescript T-shirt.Earlier this week, she wore a different uniform — the turquoise vest and sartorial accouterments of the Girl Scouts of America — as she strolled up the storied steps of the U.S. Capitol.
The two dont seem to mesh — the iconoclastic artist and the cookie-peddling Girl Scout.
But straddling those disparate groups helped earn her the Girl Scouts Young Women of Distinction honor and learn some healthy lessons about how to share her gifts with others.
Miss Vakil, 18, was one of 11 young women ages 16-18 selected nationwide for the honor, given to those who excel in community service through projects that earned them the Girl Scouts Gold Award. Fewer than one 1 percent of all Girl Scouts earn the Gold Award.
As a reward, the winners toured the District, swapped anecdotes with senators on Capitol Hill and mingled with experts in medicine, policy-making and nonprofit businesses. Each young woman also received a $1,000 scholarship from the Kappa Delta national sorority.
"The Girl Scouts has led the way to bigger ideas for me," says Miss Vakil, a tall, dark-haired teen with an inquisitive streak. "Ive taken many opportunities, such as leadership skill building, and applied it to my life."
Miss Vakil's Girl Scout Gold Award project involved bringing senior citizens and teen-agers together to create artwork.
She began four creative workshops with fellow students from South Lakes High School and residents of Tall Oaks Retirement Home, both in Reston. The workshops helped chip away at a problem that she says doesnt get much attention in our society, discrimination between generations.
She capped off the sessions with a gallery reception of the artists work, a time in which the divide between the old and the young dissipated. The seniors captivated the teens with their art, some of which captured remembrances of World War II heroism and struggles in the civil rights movement.
One senior, a former artist, "went home and stretched canvas for the first time in 40 years," Miss Vakil says proudly.
In turn, the seniors saw the students not as rebels clad in funny fashions, but as individuals who grasp modern-day issues while jettisoning some of the ills of past generations.
"Teen-agers are not apathetic people," she says. "Were a generation without discrimination."
The Girl Scouts, formed in 1912, boasts a membership of more than 3.7 million girls nationwide.
Miss Vakil joined their ranks in the fourth grade, looking in part to assuage a lingering hurt. Her mother died when she was 3, and the Girl Scouts was a group to re-establish a bond, an extended family of sorts, for her.
"A lot of my friends were Girl Scouts. It was a great way to get sisterhood," she says.
"When youre young, you join to hang with your friends …and play tricks with your leaders," she adds shyly.
Miss Vakils Girl Scout leader, Helen Housley of Reston, says she has witnessed a remarkable change in her young charge.
"When she first came in, she was full of ideas," says Ms. Housley. "There was this great enthusiasm and no mechanism for implementation. All of that changed within the last couple of years."
The culmination of that spirit turned out to be the Gold Award program.
"From that point on, shes been a little dynamo," she says.
That blossoming maturity also is reflected in Miss Vakils choice of colleges. She earned a full scholarship to the San Francisco Art Institute, but will attend Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond this fall, and perhaps transfer to the art school in a year or two.
For the young Reston woman, the chance to soak in more than just the arts world is too good to pass up, says Ms. Housley.
"As much as shed like to immerse herself in the arts, she said to me, 'They dont teach anything else," Ms. Housley says.
Miss Vakil got to flex her political knowledge this week when she met Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, and talked shop with a representative from the office of Rep. Tom Davis, another Virginia Republican, who represents her home town.
"It was neat to get into the politics of my state," Miss Vakil says.
Looking ahead, Miss Vakil sees herself teaching art, but not at one of the countrys elite institutions.
"I want to be an arts professor where I can reach people who dont get the opportunities to get regular enlightenment," she says. "Im not looking for any fame. Im looking to serve the people."

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