Student Wins Girl Scouts’ Highest National Honor

Lauren Vanlandingham recognized with Gold Award for helping cancer patients with mental health concerns

Lauren Vanlandingham, a freshman general business major at the University of Mississippi, has been selected to receive a National Gold Award from the Girl Scouts of America. Photo courtesy of Girl Scouts of the USA

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi student has received the Girl Scouts of the United States of America‘s highest honor for her exceptional efforts to help cancer patients with their mental health.

Lauren Vanlandingham, a freshman general business major from St. Louis, was among 10 Girl Scouts from across the nation presented the Girl Scouts National Gold Award. Each honoree earned two Journey badges and completed an 80-plus-hour community service project to be nominated by their local scouting council for the honor.

“I’m truly honored to be among the Girl Scouts selected to receive the Gold Award,” Vanlandingham said. “I’m amazed that something I started to help patients in my area has had such a major impact on the cancer survivor community.”

Vanlandingham was among three candidates nominated by the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri for the Gold Award.

“Gold Award Girl Scouts are incredible young women demonstrating remarkable leadership through a measurable and sustainable community service project,” said Aurrice Duke-Rollings, the council’s chief advancement and marketing officer. “Lauren underwent a rigorous multiround review process at the national level.”

Recognizing that cancer is a traumatic diagnosis for millions of people worldwide, Vanlandingham addressed the mental and emotional health of cancer patients and their caregivers by collecting and delivering thousands of letters with messages of hope. The letters forge connections among patients, survivors and caregivers as they share experiences, concerns and hope for the future, ultimately reducing stress and improving mental and, potentially, physical health.

To increase her reach, Vanlandingham taught hundreds of children, teens and adults cancer etiquette – what to say and what not to say to patients – and letter-writing skills, developed an interactive website for people to write or request a letter, and authored and distributed a book, “Stories of Hope: Be the Light.” The book includes 10 families’ stories and advice to inspire those affected by cancer.

“Both my mother and my grandfather are cancer survivors,” she said. “After they were diagnosed, I wanted to do all I could to encourage them as they underwent treatment for the disease. My support of them is what inspired my community service project.”

Vanlandingham, left, gets her photo taken with Sylvia Acevedo, Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts of the USA. Photo courtesy of Girl Scouts of the USA

Lauren Vanlandingham (left) gets her photo taken with Sylvia Acevedo, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of the USA. Photo courtesy Girl Scouts of the USA

Since she’s been on campus, Vanlandingham has joined Ole Miss Women in Business and Young Life, become a Rebelthon volunteer, joined a sorority and attends Rebel football games. Her other interests include student government and community service.

The freshman said her career goal is to one day have her own business, a dream she found while selling Girl Scout Cookies annually. And though she has reached adult status as a Girl Scout, Vanlandingham volunteers with her former troop whenever she visits home and has the opportunity.

She plans to become a troop leader in the future.

“My mom was a Girl Scout, but she never made it as far as I did,” Vanlandingham said. “I definitely want to continue supporting the organization that has given so much to me.”