By Ed Brock
When she was in kindergarten Nicole Bello's class received a visit from a Girl Scout leader.
After school she brought home some information to her parents and said "I want to be a Girl Scout."
Now 18-year-old Bello has received the Girl Scout's highest award, the Gold Award, for giving two needy children a new room. A member of Troop 1360 in Clayton County, Bello now lives in McDonough and was one of 70 girls to receive the award from the Girl Scout Council of Northwest Georgia.
She received the award at the council's May 31 banquet.
It takes approximately three years to earn the award, according to a statement from Girl Scout Council spokesman Brian Hill.
After earning several other patches and doing other studies, the Scout must complete a community based project that takes 50 hours or more to plan, organize and implement.
Bello said she spent three months redoing the room of 5-year-old Apachi Cotton and her 3-month-old brother Kaneef Cotton in Thomasville. She learned about the Cotton family from the daughter of a man who does work around her house, Bello said. The man's daughter works for the Department of Family and Children's Services and had worked with the family.
The children's parents were both young and were struggling to make ends meet after recently moving out of the children's grandmother's house. Their new home was a project house and the children's room was plain and unadorned.
Apachi had only a toddler bed.
"(Kaneef) had no bed at all, he had to sleep with his parents," Bello said.
Operating under the theme of the television show "While You Were Out," Bello collected money and donations of items from local businesses to provide the children with new carpets, bedding, furniture, toys and more. She also painted the room, with the help of her mom, and stenciled each child's name over their bed with butterflies as decorations.
Apachi appreciated the work, Bello said.
"She was just too excited," Bello said. "She had so many toys donated from other people that she wanted to play with."
Bello's project was a dream come true for the children's father Kevangelo Cotton as well.
"Every parent wants to do something special for their child," Cotton said. "To not be in a position to do so and to have her come out of the blue to do this, it makes me feel pretty good."
The experience benefited her as well, Bello said.
"It was fun getting to know new people and be outside of my experience," Bello said. "I always grew up blessed."
An only child, Bello said he mother wanted her to join the scouts so she would develop her social skills. She stayed in because she enjoyed her troop's activities like camping, taking a trip to Disney World and a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico.
The old troop is planning another trip to Savannah this summer, but it may well be their last adventure together.
"We're getting older," Bello said. "Everybody's going to different schools."
Bello plans to study nursing at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville where she does hope to get involved in the Campus Girl Scout program.
"They try to recruit girls and repeat the process I went through," Bello said. "I'll be a leader, now."