As a toddler, Olivia Foli used to trek campgrounds alongside her brother, who was a Cub Scout.
She too was a scout, a Girl Scout, and rose from Daisy as a young girl to Cadet in middle school earning bronze and silver awards.
Despite this, she craved the experiences that her brother had.
Olivia founded all-female Troop 21 in Gainesville in February 2019, and decided to complete her final project at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital last Friday, in order to achieve her Eagle Scout status. The 16-year-old PK Yonge junior donated 676 painted healing stones from more than 100 people from six different states: California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida and Oregon.
Twelve 20-inch rocks with words like “courteous” and “brave” peeked out from the bushes of the UF Health Children's Healing Garden. Olivia said each stone symbolized the 12 points of the Scout Law.
Each pediatric patient can complete a scavenger hunt with the 12 stones and collect a healing rock as a reward. Patients will get physical prescriptions to play in the garden and pick out a rock that speaks to them.
“It's very taxing on a childhood to be in and out of the hospital,” she said. “This is just something to bring joy to those patients.”
Olivia said she wished that someone had done something like this for her when she was younger. She was born with brachial plexus, a nerve damage injury, leaving her right arm paralyzed from her neck to her fingertips, she said. Once she completed her surgery, she went to occupational therapy at UF Health Shands Hospital from age 7 to 14.
“When I found out this garden was going to be for pediatric patients it really called me,” she said.
An Eagle Scout is the highest rank a Scout can achieve. They’re required to complete a service project, earn 21 merit badges, attend a scoutmaster conference and be approved by the board of review, according to the 2019 Eagle Scout fact sheet. Only 8% of scouts ever rise to this rank.
Olivia plans to be a part of the inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts in America.
Amy Wegner, the director of the child life services at Shands Hospital, said Olivia’s project will support children of all ages in the hospital, even family and staff members.
“She really took the lead and created this wonderful project,” she said. “We couldn't be more thankful.”
Wegner said the pediatric patients haven’t had an opportunity to utilize the garden recently because of COVID-19, but plans to allow children with volunteers or staff members to play in the garden individually.
“We know that the outdoors really benefits children in many, many ways as far as healing and relaxing them,” Wegner said.
Two years ago, this would’ve been impossible, Troop 21 Scoutmaster and Olivia’s mother Kim Foli said. Her daughter would ask incessantly about when she could be a Boy Scout. She recalls her daughter’s reaction when she first shared the news that Scouts BSA was accepting females.
“She jumped up from her plate and started running around the house,” Kim Foli said. “This previously impossible idea was now possible.”
Olivia Foli has completed all her rank requirements and merit badges so far. She did so in about 19 months, a process that normally takes five to six years, Kim Foli said.
The next step is the review process. On Feb. 8 she can officially receive her certificate to become an Eagle Scout.
“This has been a dream of hers since she was a little girl,” Kim Foli said. “It’s an incredible opportunity.”