On the south side of the Ronald McDonald House Charities-KC lies a freshly laid brick path with names etched into them.
There’s a brick for a family who stayed with at the Ronald McDonald House while their daughter completed a pain management course. There’s another for a family who stayed at the home, located on Hospital Hill, while their child completed chemotherapy.
To earn a Gold Award, the Girl Scouts’ top honor, Troop 1625 member Samantha Jansen of Lenexa partnered with the Ronald McDonald House Charities-KC to build a brick garden, a permanent place for the families hosted by the nonprofit’s temporary housing to keep their memories.
The cause is personal for Jansen. Her twin brother, Eric, died shortly after birth. And her family was helped by the Ronald McDonald House when her younger brother had heart surgery at nearby Children’s Mercy, which required him to be in the hospital for five days.
Jacob Jansen is now a healthy 11-year-old, and the family has maintained involvement with the house since his surgery nine years ago by donating time to activities like the group’s “Trunk or Treat” Halloween celebration.
Jansen worked to raise about $12,000 in material and in-kind donations to build the project itself. She also created an $8,000 sustaining fund to defray the $75 engraving fee for families who are in need but wish to have their loved one honored in the Building Hope Brick Garden. A pair of bricks commemorate Eric.
The project earned the Shawnee Mission West junior a Gold Award, an achievement only 5 percent of Girl Scouts will realize. The accolade requires a troop member to build a sustainable project over at least 80 hours.
Over the last two and a half years, Jansen has devoted 300 hours to the project.
Jansen dedicated the memorial last month; among the ceremony’s 70 attendees were families whose stories are embedded in the project. They extended their gratitude to Jansen.
“That definitely had a huge impact on me,” she said. “Families were there getting to see their child’s brick. Many of them said ‘Thank you very much, you have no idea how much this means to me.’ ”
“It helped that I wasn’t just someone coming in,” she said. “I was able to relate to people.”
Holding both the Bronze Award and Silver Award — both of which are awarded to smaller projects for elementary and middle school age scouts — Jansen made the decision to pursue the Gold Award at age 14.
“I have to say, until I worked at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City, it was interesting because you don’t expect kids to come with these kinds of skills and savviness,” said April Hudson, program and operations director.
Hudson helped Jansen connect with the families and moments that make up the brick garden.
The nonprofit has worked with other groups like the Eagle Scouts in the past, but this is the first Gold Award project the charity has worked with.
“This was a huge project,” Hudson said.
Jansen said community service and a mandate to do well by others are central components of the Girl Scouts philosophy.
“I feel like we all want to change the world in some way. Each one of us is like ‘Where do we go? What do we do? Who needs help?’ ” she said. “Girl Scouts built that love for me.”
Jansen will receive her Gold Award on April 2 at an event marking the accolade’s centennial.