Ashley Forbes wanted her final Girl Scouts project to endure, to inspire, and to use one of her favorite words, to empower girls and young women. Oh, and it had to be enjoyable — something that girls would want to do.

She had an ideal resource and partner under her roof. Forbes’ mother, Cathy Johnston-Forbes, is a golf teaching pro out of Kilmarlic Golf Club, a former LPGA touring pro and major tournament winner. She’s also supported her daughter’s efforts since she first signed up for Girl Scouts in kindergarten.

Their collaboration resulted in the Outer Banks LPGA Girls Golf Club, which earned Ashley Forbes the Girl Scouts Gold Award, the organization’s highest honor. She and her mother also received a proclamation from Kill Devil Hills mayor Sheila Davies honoring them for their work, in conjunction with national Girl Scouts Leaders Day on April 22.

“A big part of it is girls empowering each other,” said Ashley Forbes, a 17-year-old senior at First Flight High. “I definitely got that from Girl Scouts. Empowerment is a big word I’ve taken away. It sounds cheesy, but girls can do whatever they want to do, and Girl Scouts have definitely taught me that.”

Fewer than six percent of Girl Scouts earn the Gold Award, wrote Courtney Herrick, public relations manager for Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast. The GSCC serves approximately 11,000 members in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, and Forbes was one of just 27 to receive the Gold Award this year and the only girl from North Carolina.

The Outer Banks club, beginning its third year, has approximately 20 girls, ages 6-to-16. They receive skill instruction, as well as tips on stretching, exercise, nutrition and what Ashley called “life lessons” in areas such as self-confidence and commitment – all in a relaxed, nurturing setting.

“We try to make it fun,” Johnston-Forbes said. “The golf instruction’s a little more serious, but most times we have contests at the end. That’s where you see, if a shy girl wins a competition, you see some excitement and their personality start to come out.”

Ashley and her mother generally spend several hours a week organizing the upcoming day’s activities, rounding up supplies and communicating with SeaScape Golf Links PGA Director Dan O’Boyle, whose club hosts the meetings.

The Forbes’ aim is for enough girls to embrace the sport in the coming years so that First Flight High can field a girls’ golf team. Girls are permitted to compete individually, but there haven’t been enough to field a team.

Ironically, neither Ashley nor her younger sister Shannon, a sophomore at FFHS, play golf regularly, though both are quite capable.

“I should and I can, but I don’t,” Ashley joked. She prefers more active sports such as basketball and soccer, and she will attend the University of West Florida in Pensacola, where she will play soccer for the women’s Division II power.

Though Ashley doesn’t play golf regularly, having grown up around the game she knows enough to work with younger girls and beginners on swing, stretching, basic movements and game etiquette. Chatty and outgoing, her real gift is the ability to connect with people.

“Something she’s really good at,” Johnston-Forbes said, “she can pick out a girl who may not be that comfortable and a little shy, and she’s great about engaging with them and having them come out of their shell a little bit.”

Ashley will be unable to work closely with the club while away at college, though she hopes to keep a hand in it when she’s home. One condition of the Girl Scouts’ gold, silver and bronze award projects is that they must be sustainable beyond the immediate commitment of the originators. The Forbes believe that the club is set up to endure, through both instruction and growing participation.

Forbes’ active participation in Girl Scouts winds down, as well. She also completed bronze and silver projects. The bronze project was at Kitty Hawk Methodist Church, where she helped build a footbridge over a small creek to a prayer area and planted trees. Her silver project was a renovation of the men’s bathhouse at Liberty Christian Church in Colington, which was rewarding when completed, but she said pure drudgery during the process. Determined to earn a Gold Award, she and her mother brainstormed a project that would be fun for themselves and others. The golf club qualifies.

“I know I invested a lot in it, but I’ve gotten back even more than I thought,” Forbes said. “The personal connections with all the girls.”

Though her direct involvement with Girl Scouts soon ends, she will carry their lessons for the rest of her life.

“In a broader spectrum, I do want to continue with the same goal they have,” she said, “empowering women and people in general.”

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