At only 17 years old, Gillian Marie Doplemore has already done more than most to improve some of her community’s biggest challenges—food deserts, environmental sustainability, and community outreach. Her contribution? Community gardens. Community gardens are not a new idea, but Gillian’s approach was different. Her goal was to create a food garden that was self-sustaining, creating a renewable source of fresh food that her community can rely on for years to come.
Last year, she was volunteering with her mother, Juanita Doplemore, at the food bank hosted by the Collins Neighborhood Association when Gillian noticed that the food donations were not complete. “I found that people didn’t have access to fresh produce. I wanted more people to live a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle,” Gillian said. So, she collected all of the fallen fruit from the trees in her backyard and encouraged her community to do the same. Together, they collected enough reclaimed produce for the next food drive. “There are ways to get fresh produce, there is fresh produce all around us,” she said. “You can just plant a tree and you can have fruit.”
That realization paved the way for her next community contribution. After being a Girl Scout for over 12 years, Gillian was ready to begin working towards the highest possible achievement, the Gold Star Award. It’s not an easy task—of the many award requirements, Gillian needed to work at least 100 hours in an effort to provide lasting change to her community. At the onset of the pandemic, Gillian spent a lot of time gardening as well as researching environmental sustainability. She combined that knowledge with her experience at the food bank to create a solution that would improve her community’s access to fresh food—for the long run.
She teamed up with two communities—the Sustainable Living Club at her high school, Valley Christian High School, and the Long Beach Scottish Rite Center. With them, she established a self-sustaining garden at each location. What is a self-sustaining garden? According to Gillian, it is careful selection of edible plants that benefit from growing together. The garden includes plants that will provide a harvest every year and avoids plants that die after the season is over. The addition of an irrigation system that waters plants on a timer means the garden essentially takes care of itself. “I realized that it’s so much easier than a lot of people think and the benefits are so great,” Gillian said.
Donald Joe, in charge of community affairs at the Long Beach Scottish Rite Center, works with the community youth regularly, but Gillian’s mannerisms is what impressed him the most. “I didn’t realize that she was in high school. She was very professional, very pointed at her decision making,” Joe said. “She responded to our questioning, not that of a high school junior, but that of someone that has conviction on what they want to do in life.” Gillian did more than just create a community garden. “It’s not just the Scottish Rite Cultural Center that has grown, it’s grown our community,” Joe said. Gillian’s project has inspired neighbors to work on their own gardens, creating a domino effect of community beautification.
Although her Gold Star Award project is coming to an end, Gillian doesn’t plan on stopping. She wants to major in environmental engineering in college so that she can continue her work on sustainable city planning. Taking care of the planet and making decisions with sustainability in mind, Gillian said, is the way to make a difference and become a responsible global citizen.
“All the problems seem so big,” she said with passion behind her voice. “But at the end of the
day, all of it comes down to individual behaviors.” Individual choices and behaviors are part of the social responsibility that comes with being a Girl Scout. But leaving the community better than you found it goes beyond the Girl Scouts,
according to Gillian. “I feel like it’s my duty, it’s not even something that I’ve stepped up to do,” Gillian said. “I think
that it’s something that every person is called and required to do.”