Pohlman brings in the gold with a “Story Walk”

As if she isn’t busy enough as the Jacksonville High School student body president, vice president of the Rotary Interact Club, a member of the National Honors Society, National English Honors Society and as a starting senior year at Jacksonville High School, Bethany Pohlman, who admits she hasn’t been active in Girl Scouts in a while, decided to become an Ambassador Girl Scout from the Girl Scouts Central Illinois council. She decided to not only become active, but to work for the Girl Scout’s top honor, the Gold Award.

Since 1980, the Gold Award has inspired girls to find the greatness inside themselves and share their ideas and passions with their communities. These young women, like Pohlman, are inspiring leaders whose Gold Award projects are impacting the worlds of STEM, education, agriculture, medicine, and more on a local, national or global level. The award is only open to girls in high school. After earning the Gold Award, a scout is also eligible for college scholarships.

The last step in earning the award is a community project of nearly 80 hours that addresses an issue the Girl Scout is passionate about and meets a need in the community. That project, a StoryWalk® has come to fruition at the Bob Freesen YMCA with the support of the YMCA and the Jacksonville Public Library. The StoryWalk® was installed on August 3 and 4 along the 1-mile walking trail on the YMCA grounds.

“As a child I spent many years going to babysitting, play group, swimming lessons, working out and practicing cross country on the running trail and I loved going to the library and reading the books,” says Pohlman. When I was looking for a project I talked to my mom, who works at the library and she had just read about this StoryWalk®. I thought what a great way to combine the love of reading with the outdoors.”

Chris Ashmore, director at the Jacksonville Public Library, says, “the library has been interested in doing something like this for a long time, but as far as money, manpower and location and things like that, we have just been stewing it around in our minds. It was mostly our children’s librarian, Cindy Boehlke, who was thinking of applying for a grant.”

“And then, since Bethany was a big library user,” continued Ashmore, “she came to us looking for a project for her Gold Award for Girl Scouts, so she talked with Cindy and did all the research herself. So, the library and the YMCA have become co-sponsors of the project. The library will be responsible for maintaining and switching stories out over time to make it a sustainable project. And the Y was the perfect location for it. We’ve partnered with the Y before. Bethany really ran with it.”

“I did most of my research online,” says Pohlman, “but I spoke to the people who first came up with this idea in Vermont and they were very interesting.” The StoryWalk® Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg Hubbard Library. Barking Dog Exhibits manufactures the display frames for the StoryWalk®, which are used in Jacksonville.

“I went to visit the closest StoryWalk® with my mom. It is in Jerseyville, Illinois, which opened in May of this year. It was really cool. I thought it was a good idea because it combines fitness and education.” Although Pohlman says she originally wanted to be a teacher, she but has since changed her focus to becoming a business major.

“StoryWalk® creates a healthy lifestyle with an expansion of knowledge for the children who use it. It’s great for family time, a way to have children and adults read together, walk (sometimes run) and just enjoy the outdoors,” says Pohlman.

The YMCA trail is the perfect location for the StoryWalk®. The one-mile trail began as a compilation of several Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout projects (which is the Boy Scout’s most prestigious award). These projects included mowing and clearing plants from the trail, benches and mile markers, and trash cans.

Bethany recruited volunteers who donated time and equipment for the installation each of the aluminum angle-mount display frames which hold two pages of the story. Some of the frames also hold activities the families can do on their way to the next pages. Pohlman’s project also included three new benches and three new trash cans to replace some of the trash cans that have fallen into disrepair.

Home Depot kindly donated $150 worth of supplies for the project.

Pohlman has arranged with Boehlke, the Jacksonville Public Library children’s librarian, to install different story pages and activities each month to keep the books fresh on the trail so families will want to keep coming back to.

Ashmore says, “the library is covering most of the cost up front, but we expect to recoup probably close to all of it with the donations that have been coming in through Bethany’s efforts.”

The total cost of Pohlman’s project will be approximately $6,000; she has reached about half that goal at this time. The general public or businesses can help by donating any amount they wish to the project by contacting Pohlman’s leader, Kim Pohlman, at (217) 245-8841; Mary Henry, director of the Bob Freesen YMCA at (217) 245-2141; or Chris Ashmore, director of the Jacksonville Public Library at (217) 243-5435. A donation check may also be sent directly to: Jacksonville Public Library, Attn: StoryWalk® Project, 201 W. College Avenue, Jacksonville, IL 62650. Any costs received above and beyond the original cost of the angle-mount display costs will be used to maintain the StoryWalk® for many years to come.

The YMCA hopes to host a grand opening of the trail in the near future. In the meantime, Pohlman, the YMCA and the Jacksonville Public Library invite everyone to come read a story and walk the trail with your family and friends.

For one so young, Pohlman certainly has learned and understand the importance of community, reading, and physical fitness for all. Thanks to her efforts the StoryWalk® will be available on the YMCA trail for everyone in the community to enjoy and a legacy of which Pohlman can be proud.

The official ribbon cutting of the new StoryWalk® will be at the YMCA on Monday, August 20 at 3:30 p.m. Come with your family and walk and read together!

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