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San Antonio Girl Scout grows garden, future with help of strong mentors

San Antonio Express News logo San Antonio Express News 4 days ago By Vincent T. Davis, Staff writer
a woman smiling for the camera: Girl Scout Ariel Diperi smiles and releases butterflies as she is recognized by the Children's Bereavement Center for handcrafting a butterfly garden for grieving children Saturday. The service included a butterfly release for 45 families unable to attend an infant loss remembrance service because of the coronavirus. © Robin Jerstad /Contributor

Girl Scout Ariel Diperi smiles and releases butterflies as she is recognized by the Children's Bereavement Center for handcrafting a butterfly garden for grieving children Saturday. The service included a butterfly release for 45 families unable to attend an infant loss remembrance service because of the coronavirus.

First, the Girl Scout and her mentor thoroughly cleansed the ground.

Then, with care, they untangled the roots of colorful wildflowers, the Scouts’ favorite blooms. They planted the flowers in rich soil that filled a sealed and treated wooden box the Scout had built with her own hands.

Her mentor, Melina McLeod, a Texas Master Gardner, asked her to take a step back and look at the colorful butterfly garden they’d created for the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas.

Those scenes ran through Ariel Diperi’s mind during a recent ceremony in honor of her Girl Scouts Gold Award project called Laura’s Butterfly Garden.

Ariel dedicated the green space in memory of Laura Allbritton, a longtime supporter of the center.

After the ceremony, retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Angie Salinas, CEO of the Girls Scouts of Southwest Texas, said Gold Award projects should be sustainable and have an impact long afterward in their communities.

The Gold Award is the highest award a Girl Scout can achieve.

“It’s not about me,” said Ariel, 17. “It’s about the work they do there. It was uplifting and you could feel the difference they are making.”

The event also offered 45 families a chance to remember their small loved ones. Because of novel coronavirus restrictions, the Any Baby Can organization had to cancel its annual Infant Loss Remembrance Service at Christ Episcopal Church. Any Baby Can offers parents grief support, funeral assistance and other resources.

They were present at the ceremony for the new Butterfly Garden. Traditionally, during the loss remembrance service, the parents will release the butterflies in memory of their children.

At the end of the garden ceremony, Ariel knelt and released 50 butterflies from a box and watched in amazement as tiny, colorful wings fluttered above the crowd.

Completing the project and reaching the highest rank of Girl Scout ambassador was the teen’s own journey of metamorphosis, the name of Ariel’s project.

“To have it finalized was bittersweet,” Ariel said. “It was so relieving as well as exciting. All of the people I worked with I’ll remember forever.”

Ariel, a senior at Alamo Heights High School, is an only child. She credited her parents, Debra and Joseph Diperi IV, for raising her to have a strong work ethic. During the project, she worked part time job at H-E-B while maintaining an A average in school.

“Our philosophy is when you operate in grace, things will flow,” her mother said. “That’s how a child will learn.”

Ariel had a strong support network as she embarked on achieving the Gold Award that according to the Girl Scouts is awarded to less than 6 percent of Girl Scouts each year. Family members, friends and members of Troop 77 helped Ariel with the year-long project that she planned, proposed and installed.

Her boyfriend, Jacob Swords, 17, and McLeod helped her place the garden at the center. They arranged plants, hauled dirt in a wheelbarrow and hefted the heavy box across the grounds.

She spent hours working on the project in her backyard with her Uncle Ken Talley, a retired Air Force Colonel, and Aunt Linda Talley.

Talley taught her tips about construction, holding planks in place as she constructed the box.

Ariel said during the project she stood alongside strong women she wants to continue having in her life.

Her mentor, McLeod, who she calls Aunt Mel, talked about the world of plants and answered questions by phone and emails. Ariel’s mother said McLeod was one of the first female firefighters in the San Antonio Fire Department and one of the first women to become an officer.

And there was guidance from her troop leader Dr. Melissa Frei-Jones, who talked about the drive it takes for a Girl Scout to achieve the Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards.

“The neat thing is the trifecta,” Frei-Jones said. “Very few girls go all the way through and get all of the top Girl Scouts awards.”

Ariel learned about the center’s mission to help grieving children when her troop and mother prepared dinners for families. The teen was inspired by the strength of executive director Marian Sokol, who would visit with Ariel during the installation.

“The world today is so complicated and so fragile,” Sokol said. “It’s teens like Ariel and the Girl Scouts who will make the world a better place.”

She’s one of four original members of Troop 77, who have been together since they were Girl Scout Daisies in kindergarten. During their 12 years together they dedicated hundreds of service hours to San Antonio residents and people in need thousands of miles away.

A few of her close troop members were to be honored in March at a Gold Award ceremony that was postponed because of the coronavirus. Ariel said though the delay was a disappointment, she’s looking forward to walking the stage together at the rescheduled event in March 2021.

Frei-Jones’ daughter and Ariel’s close friend Abby Jones, 17, was inspired to create her Gold Award project of play therapy doll houses from the troop’s work at the center. At the ceremony, Ariel called Abby and two other fellow Scouts to join her in reciting the Girl Scouts Promise for one of the last times of their Girl Scouts careers.

Standing side by side, they promised to be courageous, strong and make the world a better place.

And unwritten within their creed is the hope that when they meet again in the distant future they’ll pick up where they left off, still seeking to achieve something larger than themselves.

Vincent T. Davis is a reporter in the Greater San Antonio and Bexar County area. To read more from Vincent, become a subscriber. vtdavis@express-news.net | Twitter: @vincentdavis

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