Photos submitted by Suzy St. Clair
By RACHAEL LONG
If there are two things for which Makenna St. Clair has a passion, it’s horse riding and helping others. In her final year of high school, the Ravenwood teen found a way to combine those passions in a meaningful and rewarding way.
As part of the requirements for earning her Girl Scouts of the USA “Gold Award,” Makenna built from scratch three red picnic tables for the Saddle Up! Therapeutic Riding Program in Franklin. Similar to the Boy Scouts of America “Eagle Scout Award,” the Gold Award is the highest achievement a Girl Scout can earn.
The Saddle Up program is exclusively for children with documented disabilities. Though she knew about the program from her own experience riding horses at Peachtree Farms, it was when one of Makenna’s friends began as a rider there that she began to think of the program as a possibility for her Gold Award project.
When she reached out to Saddle Up Volunteer Director Kim Kline, Makenna said she was told the program had a need for some outdoor seating. That was in the summer of 2018. By the time winter came around, Makenna was off to work on the picnic tables.
She had a few helpers along the way, including her father, and there was a process of “trial and error” during the build. When it was all said and done, Makenna said the project took roughly 109 hours over the course of several months.
“Actually having done it and gone out and helping another group like this tells me that I can commit to things that I really am passionate about,” Makenna said. “Not only that, but I feel like my leadership skills have really grown.”
She also had to build a website for the award, which details her project and shows several images from along the way. The website can be found here.
But her project had effects on her life that Makenna said she didn’t plan, including the strengthening of her relationship with her dad and her newfound knowledge of using power tools.
Most recently, Makenna’s mother Suzy says her daughter put that knowledge to use to build a raised garden bed.
“She went out back, and we didn’t see her for a few hours one night, and [she came back and] said, ‘Oh, my thing is done,’” Suzy recounted. “We came outside and here she had built this whole raised garden bed, but it’s all from learning what she learned for the project.”
Though it isn’t always obvious the difference one act of kindness can make on a community, Makenna began to see the fruits of her labor soon upon the project’s completion.
At the Gold Award ceremony at Lipscomb University, Suzy said Makenna had to build a project board displaying the work she had done. A young girl and her mother who happened to be a member of Saddle Up were at the ceremony and approached Makenna to “gave her a big hug” and thank her for the tables. The girl and her family had been putting them to good use.
“That was really neat to see somebody who enjoyed it or appreciated it,” Suzy said.
It wasn’t long ago that Makenna herself was around that age and beginning the Girl Scouts program. Now, Suzy says she’s the “sole survivor” of her troop here in Middle Tennessee, Troop #1444.
Makenna said her family moved to Brentwood from Laguna Niguel, California for her father’s career. Though the move was a significant life change, her desire to stay a Girl Scout remained.
“There was a fairly large amount of kids in my troop back in California, and when I moved here, it was down to like 10, and then it was down to like three,” Makenna said. “And then they all dropped out in this last year, so it kind of dropped exponentially.”
Whether the decline in the Girl Scouts program for young adults has to do with age or interest is tough to say, but Suzy says the demands of secondary school make it a big time commitment.
“You start so young, you start Girl Scouts when you’re a kindergartener, and I think they told us only about 6% of Girl Scouts ever achieve that Gold Award,” Suzy said. “Because with every year that you go through primary school and then onto secondary school, girls just drop out. You just have so many other things that come into play. It’s a big commitment, it really is, to stick with it.”
Because Makenna was the only girl left in her troop, Suzy said she became the leader by default. But Makenna says her mother’s continued support has a lot to do with her success.
“I feel like if she hadn’t encouraged me this whole time, it probably wouldn’t have happened the way it did,” Makenna said.
Makenna has also been a member of the Ravenwood High School marching band, which Suzy said in itself is a large time commitment.
“I’m just so proud of her,” Suzy said. “Even though I encouraged her, she didn’t give up…for four straight years, [marching band] is truly an all-year round commitment. To try and fit anything else in is incredible…she just really had to tough it out.”
Makenna will graduate from Ravenwood High School in a few short weeks, and then she has plans to attend Belmont University to study nursing.
Though her affinity for nursing comes in part from her desire to help others, Makenna said it was during a family vacation when her grandmother broke a leg that she began to see nursing as a possible career.
“I just met a bunch of the nurses, and I saw how they worked with her, and that was kind of just the start,” Makenna said. “I could really see myself doing that.”
Before she begins at Belmont this fall, Makenna will serve as a staff member for Peachtree Farms’ summer camp programs. And though she’s loved her time in the Girl Scouts program, for now, Makenna says she’s ready to hang up her badge-covered vest.
For more information on Saddle Up, visit its website here or call 615-794-1150 to speak with a staff member.