Plants in various shades of green and a rainbow of flowers decorate a small wooden enclosure in front of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church. The garden may look like decorative, but it serves a bigger purpose: to pollinate.
Girl Scout Olivia Loyack planted the pollinator garden – one of three in the area – as part of her Gold Award project titled “The Plight of the Honey Bee.” She wants to change how people think about bees in their backyards and educate others about how sustaining them is vital to the ecosystem.
“I want them to learn that anyone can make a pollinator garden,” said Loyack, 17. “It’s something anyone can do. And also to know that one person can make a lot of change.”
Loyack is a rising senior at Cary High School and has been a Girl Scout for nearly 10 years. She decided to earn a Gold Award – the most prestigious award that can be earned as a Girl Scout. Only about 5 percent of Girl Scouts earn the award, which requires a minimum of 80 hours of work, all combined with extensive research and community education.
Loyack learned at school that the bee population is dwindling, and after more research, she discovered several factors contribute to the decline.
“Due to use of pesticides, habitat loss, lack of food,” she said. “It’s causing colony collapse syndrome, and that is a combination of different effects, such as pesticides making bees more vulnerable to different threats.”
Humans can help, though, Loyack said. So she decided to set up three pollinator gardens for her Gold Award project: one at her house, one at Kirk of Kildaire, and one at the Page-Walker Arts and History Center. Pollinator gardens are collections of plants that provide a good source of food and shelter for essential pollinator insects, which are vital for the growth of fruits and vegetables humans consume.
“I first had to figure out what kind of plants bees like,” she said of the garden-building process. “I had to figure out the growing seasons and things, and then I had to find a location.”
She also wanted to educate the public about her cause. On Earth Day, she had a ceremony to unveil the gardens and distribute pamphlets that detail the importance of pollinators, and how people can build the gardens themselves.
Nancy Caggia, Loyack’s Girl Scout troop leader, said she thought the project showcases Loyack’s dedication to her cause. It was difficult to get started, she said.
“It was something she’d done a lot of research on,” said Caggia, leader of Troop #300. “She really had to persevere. This is truly a passion of hers.”
She said completing a project to earn a Gold Award isn’t required in scouting and is considered an independent project. It often helps girls figure out what they want to do in life, and Loyack was no exception.
“It can help them define what they do want to do and what they don’t,” Caggia said. “(Loyack) loves living things.”
Loyack, the daughter of John and Elaine Loyack, said she wants to take her study of bees even further once she graduates high school. And completing the Gold Award project can help increase Girl Scouts’ chances of earning scholarships and getting into colleges.
“I want to study conservation biology in college,” she said. “Then I want to get a graduate degree in apiary science, which is the study of bees.”
Although building the gardens took a lot of work, Loyack said the outcome was everything she hoped for. Not only did she educate other people, but she learned from the experience, too, including leadership skills. She also is involved with Youth Leadership Cary and the speech and debate team.
“I’m not used to working with a large group of adults, and telling them ‘OK, I want to do this,’ ” she said. “So working with a large group of people to get something really cool done, I learned how to make that work.”
Ultimately, the experience with the project and Girl Scouts in general taught her that it’s OK to embrace what you love, and to be your unapologetic self. She recommends the experience to other girls.
“Girl Scouts are my family,” she said. “It’s the place where I can be completely myself. I’ve known all these girls for years. They’re basically my sisters. I love them.”
Connelly: 919-460-2609; @pconnellly