Gina LaPilusa of Sparta was notified that she earned her Girl Scout Gold Award on the day of her high school graduation, June 21, 2019.
To say that she was excited was an understatement. It had been a long but rewarding road.
Gina’s family honored her in a Gold Award Ceremony on Feb. 23, right before the Covid-19 quarantine.
Gina’s community service project to earn the Gold Award focused on educating people about the need to reduce the feral cat population in Sussex County. The feral cat problem is not native to Sussex County, or New Jersey, or to the United States.
It is a global issue. Here in Sussex County, feral cats are rarely seen, but their numbers continue to grow. Feral cats live short and violent lives because of the threats of disease, fighting, weather, traffic, and lack of food. Sadly, most feral cats do not die of old age, but rather of diseases that could be treated if they had veterinarian access.
A feral cat is defined as a cat that was either born in the wild or a domesticated cat lost or abandoned. Once feral, these cats cannot be domesticated. Organizations such as BARKS advocate TNR, or Trap/Neuter/Release, a humane way of managing the feral cat population. The goal is to quell unwanted litters and provide necessary veterinary care, thus avoiding euthanasia.
For kittens found in time, or for lost or abandoned cats, BARKS takes them in and prepares them for adoption. Gina’s goal was, and continues to be, to promote awareness of this important issue to Sussex County residents. She hopes by educating people on the issue, that more abandoned animals will find a forever home and live out a fulfilled life.
‘Take Me Home Packages’
Gina partnered with BARKS (Byram Animal Rescue Kindness Center) for her project. BARKS holds weekly Adoption Days at local venues such as PetSmart of Newton, where the kittens or cats that are available for adoption are showcased in the hope that someone will offer them a home. The cost of an adoption averages $125. The adoption price includes the initial vaccinations, neutering, and veterinary care. However, this doesn’t take into account the start-up cost of setting up a home for a cat. Items such as litter box, kitty litter, scooper, bed, dishes and food, can cost up to another $150 or more.
Gina’s project addressed the issue of feral cats and ultimately abandoned litters/kittens. It also promoted the need for more neuter/spayed kitten/cat adoptions. To offset the cost of the adoption, Gina worked with her team to assemble “Take Me Home Packages” that assisted efforts to give a cat its forever home.
Gina began working on her Gold Award more than a year before the date of her announcement. She set up tables in PetSmart of Newton, Frank’s Pizza of Sparta, as a few examples, to educate and explain the feral cat issue in the local community. She was interviewed on iHeart WNNJ, WSUS with Borasio, explaining her project. Gina even performed with “Just Us” at the American Legion Post 86 to highlight her project. She also handed out flyers at Sparta Day, Byram Day and Netcong Day.
Through generous donations from the people of Netcong, Byram and Sparta, Gina collected enough products to put together more than 100 “Take Me Home Packages.” BARKS handed them out with each adoption, and the feedback on how this made a difference has been nothing but positive.
A special shout-out thank you to BARKS, PetSmart of Newton, Frank’s Pizza of Sparta, and her amazing Gold Award Team (Darlene O’Connell, Arjun Amin, Jean Asti, Elizabeth DeGasparis, Fernando and Sebastian Gomez, and her family, Adrianne, Paul and Vincenzo LaPilusa) for giving her all the support she needed to persevere and finalize her Gold Award dream.
Gina is a three-time Girl Scout Award recipient, as she has earned her Bronze Award, Silver Award, and now Gold Award. She is currently attending William Paterson University as a pop vocal music major, with a minor in music business management. Her family continues to love and support two cats adopted from BARKS, Julie and Jonie.