On June 26, 2013, my husband Donald’s best friend of 45 years, Mark Cummings of Simsbury, CT, showed up at our home needing help. He had been battling cancer on his adrenal glands as well as his pituitary gland, which ultimately took his sight. His wife, who had been his caretaker, became too ill with cancer herself to take care of him. We immediately welcomed Mark with open arms.

A man as kind and intelligent as Mark deserved to have his dignity remain intact, and we saw to it that happened. We were able to find him an apartment home near us and helped him settle into his new life. He began to attend the Braille Institute and thrived. He learned Apple product technologies, such as the iPhone and iPad, to assist and enhance his life. He learned Braille and took art classes too.

From the beginning, Scripps Ranch Girl Scout Troop 8845 has been an exemplary example of little leaders participating in community outreach. Upon hearing about Mark and his circumstances, they began to explore ways to help.

Even as far back as when they were Brownies, they put together a first aid kit for “Mr. Mark,” as they called him. They wanted to give him something useful for his new apartment. The girls even labeled the items using a device borrowed from the Braille Institute. Mr. Mark was invited to a troop meeting and the girls presented it to him. He was touched beyond words.

As the girls worked their way up to Junior Girl Scouts, Mr. Mark was still in their hearts and minds. Two years ago in preparation for their Bronze Awards, they wanted to include more outreach to Mr. Mark and the blind community. They decided to bring culture and the arts to Mr. Mark and his Braille classmates.

In the dining and lecture hall at the Braille Institute, the girls put together an afternoon including piano, flute, recorder, and poetry. Of course, the event would not have been complete without providing some Girl Scout cookies! Troop 8845 was a big hit and the students cheered and were very grateful for the performance.

The girls were given a tour of the beautiful Braille Institute campus. When they came upon the outstanding art department, they were amazed by the beautiful art that blind people were able to achieve. Art at the Braille Institute offers diverse mediums, from sculpting and water colors to glazed pottery and mosaics.

Sadly, Mr. Mark succumbed to his battle with cancer last September. Our troop was saddened by the loss of their friend. As an act of generosity to honor his name, the girls came up with a plan to continue to give back to the Braille Institute.

In May our girls decided to use their cookie sale proceeds for art supplies to donate to the Braille Institute’s art department. In an event in Mr. Mark’s honor, the girls presented their amazing gift basket full of nearly everything the art department had on its wish list (at left). There was not a dry eye in the place.

Our girls went above and beyond in reaching out to the community and fully embracing what it means to give. We are so proud of Troop 8845: Grace Costello, Emily Anderson, Bridget Colletto, Megan Burns, Allison Fero, Kimberly Netzke, Skylar Keahey, and Anneliise Larson.

Joanna Netzke, Scripps Ranch Resident