Our Heroes: Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen

This week, we honor two Heroes, because these two Michigan teens work as a team and together are leading a high profile campaign to make Girl Scouts cookies more environmentally-friendly. What started as a research assignment became a national campaign backed by organizations like the Rainforest Action Network and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"[W]e're living by the Girl Scout law and a few of those aspects are to make the world a better place and to use resources wisely. And so Girl Scouts USA just really needs to live up to their own laws."

It all began when Madison and Rhiannon - seventh graders at the time - looked into the environmental threats to large primates in Southeast Asia. They found out that the production of palm oil, an ingredient in Girl Scouts cookies, has caused widespread deforestation. These days, Madison and Rhiannon manage a website, have been featured in national press and even on national TV, and their efforts have led to meetings with the directors of Girl Scouts USA. Along the way, in true Girl Scout fashion, they have gained a new sense of empowerment and self-confidence.

Update: We just got a note from Madison and Rhiannon with great news! In their own words: "We were in New York at the end of May doing media outreach and had the opportunity to meet with the Girl Scouts face-to-face for the first time ever. At the meeting they committed to working with us to research and identify a solution, and we've set up a plan for moving forward. Hopefully rainforest-destruction free Girl Scout cookies will be coming in the near future! The cookies cannot be changed for the next two cookie seasons, due to contracts they have with the bakers, but in 2013 we're hoping that the cookies will be deforestation-free! M&R"

Find below a snippet of our conversation. You can listen to the whole interview by clicking on the audio player above.

I know there has been some criticism or some opinions about you getting involved in this issue. There was this columnist for the Seattle Times that said something to the fact that some decisions are best left to adults. Do you feel that people look down on you because of your age, or do you feel that somehow that can work to your advantage and, you know, people can be inspired by young girls being so into these issues and taking action?

Madison: Well we certainly received a lot of criticism, but we've also received a lot of support, I think. And what's important to remember is that Rhiannon and I have worked very hard to make sure that this is a positive campaign. And you know, we're living by the Girl Scout law and a few of those aspects are to make the world a better place and to use resources wisely. And so Girl Scouts USA just really needs to live up to their own law. And I think that although some adults have said that in the past, because we also are kids, have an opportunity to reach out to other kids and just ask them to do stuff that we're doing, you know. Research an issue that you are passionate about and don't be afraid to, you know, go out there and try to achieve your goals. And it doesn't have to be this large, grand goal. You can start out small. I think that Rhiannon and I both share the same hero, and that is Dr. Jane Goodall. She said, "If you really want something and really work hard and take advantage of opportunities and never give up, you will find a way." So we'd just like to urge other kids to do that.

And do you find, I imagine, that this was somewhat of a change in your lives, you continue, I imagine, to have your normal activities as high school students, but being involved in a campaign that took on such big proportions must also have impacted your lives in some way. Can you tell us a little bit about those impacts and how you feel this has affected your lives?

Rhiannon: Sure. I think it's definitely been a little bit of a struggle, especially right now, because we're getting towards the end of the school year, with trying to juggle school and our sports and other afterschool activities as well as this project, because this project does take up a considerable amount of time. But I think we've been very fortunate. I honestly could not imagine my life without this project in it. And I think that this project has taught us so much in terms of leadership and courage and confidence. Things that are important to being a leader and to being an advocate, but are also just important in your everyday life. And I think it's helped me to become a better public speaker, to be more comfortable reaching out to new people, even talking with people about an issue or about something about you are passionate. It's really just helped me become, I think, a better student and just a better person overall.

Updated 3/21/16.