Living History: Girl Scout publishes book about life during pandemic | SchoolNews

It was never Riley Dunn’s intention to document history as it unfolded in real-time. She just wanted to write a book and earn the Girl Scout Gold Award.

“I like to write,” said Dunn, whose book, “Personal Interviews on COVID-19’s Beginnings,” hit Amazon’s virtual bookshelves March 15. “We didn’t know how bad COVID was going to be at the time. It was really just supposed to be a snapshot of that couple of months of COVID, in history.”

On March 13, 2020, Dunn and other Trinity High School students headed home, books and binders in tow, for what they, their parents and teachers presumed would be two weeks of virtual learning due to a global pandemic.

Dunn left campus, “… not knowing that it would be the last time I saw the school until locker clean-outs three months later,” she writes in her novel.

The novel – a Girl Scout Gold Award project – combines Dunn’s passion for writing with a budding interest in journalism (she’s the copy editor for Trinity High School’s newspaper, The Hiller, and editor-in-chief of the school’s literary magazine). Interviewing, she figured, would expand her leadership skills from her, and a nonfiction novel seemed a fitting way to earn the prestigious Gold Award. Dunn has dreamed of the Gold Award since joining Girl Scouts in kindergarten and earning both the Bronze and Silver awards.

When she is presented the Gold Award on Sunday, Dunn will be one of 67 Scouts in Girl Scouts Western PA to receive the honor. There were 1,719 young women eligible to apply for the award this year.

“I like to look at the Gold Award more as a dissertation, honestly,” said Linda Brison, leader of Dunn’s Troop 51701. “There’s a very strict set of things that they have to do for this project. It’s huge.”

Brison said before undertaking the Gold Award, Girl Scouts submit a proposal. If accepted, the Scout works closely with her leadership team, completes stacks of paperwork and logs at least 100 hours of work on the project.

“It was a lot of work,” Brison said.

“Personal Interviews” explores the pandemic’s impact in real-time through a series of interviews woven together by letters from the author, which document her struggles with life in lockdown. The interviews, conducted by Dunn and a friend of her, reveal how people locally and internationally adjusted to a confined, mask-wearing world.

“This book is kind of my journey through COVID,” said Dunn. “It starts out, not negative, per se, but you definitely could tell by the first letter I write that it’s kind of going to go that way. By the end, it’s just a lot more positive writing and a lot more hopeful writing.”

By the end of the project, Dunn herself had changed. A shy, thoughtful young woman, Dunn said she was nervous to interview strangers. She spoke with her mother de ella, Mandy’s, cousin and Brison. With every interview, Dunn honed her skills, gained leadership abilities and came away with newfound confidence.

“That growth that she went through from the time when the book started to the time when it ends, it shows,” said Mandy Dunn. “It was kind of cool to see her grow as a person.”

Riley Dunn said one of the best interviews was with Nobuko Okudaira, a woman who splits her time between the states and Japan.

“It was interesting to do that one. I had to actually think about, OK, I’m in a completely different time zone than she is. I need to call her later, so it will be just morning for her,” laughed Dunn. “She has a whole couple pages in the book where she just describes the situation in the airports. I thought that it was very interesting to hear… how difficult it is to get from one country to another during that time.”

Though an excellent learning experience, writing a book about the pandemic while it dragged on through summer vacation and into the 2020-2021 school year was difficult for Dunn, a high school swimmer, member of the Rachel Club, and, of course, Girl Scout Ambassador.

“I’m just glad that I wasn’t a junior or senior during COVID year. I was just a sophomore and that was terrible for me. I still got good grades. I was just so depressed and upset about everything. Especially during the month of December, because I wasn’t swimming,” said Dunn in an even, thoughtful tone. “I was just not in a good mental state at all. I could do other writing, but I really just couldn’t do something, I couldn’t write about something that was still affecting me so much and was ruining my school experience at the time.”

By September 2020, “Personal Interviews” was halfway complete. As autumn gave way to winter, Dunn’s motivation for completing the project waned. She couldn’t muster the mental energy needed to put words on the page.

“I had done it in bits and pieces a little bit toward the beginning of 2021, but I still just didn’t want to do it,” she said. “Sometime in September of 2021, I realized I wanted to get this done because… I do the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition every year. I was like, I didn’t get my novel done last year. I’m going to finish the Girl Scout book so I can finally get my Gold Award, and I’ll submit it to Scholastic, too. So I made the Scholastics deadline my deadline. That really helped me, having that set date. That really helped me pull through.”

Dunn designed her book’s cover and, with her mother’s help, self-published “Personal Interviews” almost two years to the day COVID-19 forever altered life in America.

“It is the first novel-length piece of writing that I feel that I can be proud of and happy to show people and happy to put in my hands,” said Dunn.

“It took a while, but I achieved this amazing award with it and I wrote something. I wrote a novel that people seem to like. As someone who wants to be an author and wants her writing to make an impact, that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of.”

As junior year comes to a close, Dunn is focusing on college tours – she wants to major in creative writing – and looking forward to a summer trip to Niagara Falls with her Girl Scout troop.

“I really want a lifetime membership. I love this organization,” she laughed.

She’s also excited to enjoy every moment of senior year at Trinity.

“I’m excited for my final year,” she said. “I want to keep going on as many trips as I can, being as involved as I can, and being there for other Girl Scouts if they want to take a shot at their Gold or Silver award. It’s going to be a fun year. I’m ready for it.”


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