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Robin Olesinski earns Gold Award by helping children learn hydroponics....

     Robin Olesinski a junior at Walsh Jesuit High School has a passion for chemistry. Since the first grade, she also has nurtured a love for helping others through her involvement in Girl Scouts.  Last summer, Robin a 17-year-old, joined our Camp Counselor In-Training Program (CCIT) and found a way to combine the two interests by developing a hydroponic garden that required careful pH testing and adjustments, and teaching children at Country Life Kids Camp how to grow their food.

     The project culminated in a Gold Award – the highest award a Girl Scout may earn, often compared with the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Award. Less than 5 percent of Girl Scouts take on a Gold Award project, which, among other requirements, must be sustainable and take at least 80 hours to complete.  “When I learned I could get my hands on acid and chemicals, I was in,” Robin says.  The Christian youth camp, at 7003 W. Smith Road, was founded by fellow parishioner Tina Bildstein to help children explore, learn and grow through academic exploration and athletics. Tina says she supported the idea as a way to enhance the learning for the 60 campers, age 5 to 14, who come each summer.

     While they already did “seed-in-the ground “gardening, Robin says, “I thought it would be cool to show them different ways of planting.” Hydroponics is the growing of plants in a water and fertilizer solution with all the essential nutrients. Robin researched the materials needed, purchased them and built the system.  Four, 8-foot panels each grew 72 heads of Bibb lettuce or basil suspended over water.  She created a power point presentation to teach the children at camp about the system and charted the plants’ growth each week, comparing it with crops planted at the same time in the ground.


     There was far more success with the hydroponic crops – “we could only harvest two heads from the dirt,” Robin says. Campers ate some of the lettuce in salads and the rest was donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Society at our parish for the needy.  “It was the most amazing, delicious, beautiful, bug-free lettuce ever,” says Diane.  


The project required many hours at the camp, working independently with the children and consulting with experts, but Robin says she learned to be self-sufficient and responsible. “I’m glad I did it. I loved the kids I worked with,” she says. “It made me want to go back.”  She says the project convinced her that more growers should embrace hydroponic gardening. “It’s really expensive (at first), but once you have it in place, it’s very efficient,” she says. “Animals don’t eat (the crops) because it’s high off the ground.  The vegetables are way more crisp and fresh. With climate change, hydroponic gardening doesn’t rely on ground temperature because it’s not on the ground, and the vegetables are very nutrient-dense.”  “I was really proud of her,” Diane says. “She really inspired these kids. I was really proud to see her take the initiative as a teenager and see her do this project.”

     “At Country Life Kids Camp, Robin gave of her time, talent and treasure to do great acts of service for our Camp,” Tina says.  “She was an inspirational role model for our campers and made a positive impact in their lives.”  “We are proud of her Girl Scout – Gold Award accomplishment to be a leader and mentor for our campers.”   “Thank you for the generous donation of the hydroponic system to continue our teaching for children on how to grow their food.”

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