It was already nearly 90 degrees as 16-year-old Victoria Hinojos worked in the yard of the Friendship of Women’s emergency shelter, carefully marking where a piece of lumber would be cut as a team from the Cameron County Juvenile Department worked on the frame of small structure adjacent to the main building.

It was already nearly 90 degrees as 16-year-old Victoria Hinojos worked in the yard of the Friendship of Women’s emergency shelter, carefully marking where a piece of lumber would be cut as a team from the Cameron County Juvenile Department worked on the frame of small structure adjacent to the main building.

The Girl Scout from Troop 365 assisted with construction as she could, but she was the driving force behind the efforts to build a new laundry room for the shelter. The project is the culmination of Victoria’s work toward the prestigious Gold Award, which requires scouts to find a sustainable solution to a problem in their community.

Victoria said she was inspired to take on the project by another Girl Scout named Hannah Edelstein, who organized the donation of commercial washers and dryers to the shelter for her own Gold Award project. Victoria found out that the shelter’s existing laundry room is comprised of a residential washer and dryer stored in a closet.

“I’ve been learning more about what they do here, and it’s really amazing,” she said. “It’s nice to learn there are people who help women in their time of need.”

Veronica Ramos, Friendship of Women shelter manager, said 10 to 25 clients at a time might be sharing the washer and dryer, which they use once or twice per week according to a schedule. It can be especially tough during the school year for clients who have several children and need to keep up with their uniforms.

“It’s amazing to have such young girls help our clients this way,” Ramos said. “To give that homey feeling even though they’re in a very different situation.”

Evonne Lopez, education volunteer coordinator for Friendship of Women, said the shelter’s clients can’t go out to do their laundry because of safety concerns, and having the upgraded laundry room will help create more of a home environment. Girl Scout Lyda Maldonado will round out the third phase of the project by organizing the construction of a covered walkway to the laundry room.

“I’m so excited to see such youth mobilizing in our community,” Lopez said. “It’s amazing to see them start so young in social work, and I know they’re going to go on to bigger things.”

Victoria got the Historic Rotary Club of Brownsville, the Zonta Club, architect Roberto Valencia and the Cameron County Juvenile Department involved. She got her hands dirty removing tiles from the construction site and digging holes for the foundation.

David Sanchez, special projects administrator for the Cameron County Juvenile Department, said he was glad cadets and staff members from the department’s Building Trades Program could get involved. They’ve built benches, picnic tables and homes before — part of the program’s belief that vocational skills are part of rehabilitating children.

“They’re engaged in a constructive action, learning skills, staying away from crime, working with other folks,” he said of the cadets. “It doesn’t matter what path life takes for you, what matters is wanting to do something good for your community.”

Fourteen-year-old cadet Jovani climbed down to take a break from work on the laundry room’s frame and stepped into the shade.

“It’s fun, and I enjoy it,” he said.

A fellow cadet, 14-year-old Leonardo, said he enjoyed participating “to spend time learning new things.”

Sanchez estimates the 24-foot-by-15-foot laundry room will be completed in about two weeks.

Violeta Hinojos, Victoria’s mom, looked on as her daughter worked on the ground and the Building Trades Program team hammered away at the frame. She hopes her daughter’s project shows people that Girl Scouting is about much more than selling cookies. Not only Boy Scouts are doing good works.

“Girls can do it, too,” she said. “The commitment is there.”

Victoria has seen how the project brought together people whose goals were aligned. The cadets building the laundry room, the people who donated funds or services and Friendship of Women are on a mission to help people.

“They’re helping me achieve my Gold Award by doing something they’ve been wanting to do,” Victoria said.

Victoria has been a Girl Scout since she was 5 and knew she wanted to push herself to work toward the Gold Award since she was 10.

“I’ve been a Girl Scout for so long, I want to show that I did something valuable,” she said. “If you give back to your community, you make the world a better place.”