The Girl Scouts of Greater New York (GSGNY) honored 17-year-old Despina Anastasiou from Astoria as the 2020 Future Woman of Distinction for her extraordinary leadership and dedication to community service.
Anastasiou was recognized alongside eight women leaders at Girl Scouts of Greater New York’s 28th annual Women of Distinction virtual weeklong event this month. Each year, GSGNY holds the Women of Distinction event in celebration of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low’s birthday, celebrating female leaders who exemplify Girl Scout values.
“Girl Scouts of Greater New York is proud to name Despina Anastasiou our 2020 Future Woman of Distinction, honoring her as a role model for younger Girl Scouts and all New Yorkers,” said Meridith Maskara, CEO of GSGNY. “Despina has demonstrated a strong commitment to community service, repeatedly using her leadership skills to take action and make a positive impact in the world.”
Anastasiou, an Ambassador Girl Scout and recipient of the Girl Scout Gold Award, has been a member of Girl Scouts of Greater New York for 13 years as part of Troop #4375.
“Girl Scouting has been enormously influential on my character, and on how I perceive myself and the world around me,” Anastasiou said. “Over the years, Girl Scouts instilled a confidence within me that enabled me to go out and achieve my goals, and always gave me role models to show me what is possible, especially in male-dominated fields.”
Anastasiou, a senior at Dominican Academy High School in Manhattan, began Girl Scouting 13 years ago as a Daisy in kindergarten. Back then, she was excited to plant trees in parks, sing in nursing homes and repeat the Girl Scout Pledge, which she was so proud to have memorized.
Yet as time progressed, Anastasiou discovered that there was more to Girl Scouts than she had ever imagined. This one organization which she thought only existed in her local church was actually just one of the many troops that belonged to a national movement of Girl Scouts. As her knowledge grew, so did her desires to take Girl Scouting to the next level.
One way she did that was through her Gold Award Project, “We Can All Dance,” which revolved around her two passions: dance and international relations.
The dance studio she attended, as well as many others, did not have a program for children with special needs and was not inclusive to all in the area. She joined an organization called Dancing Dreams, where she continues to teach dance to children with physical and mental disabilities weekly, always looking for new ways to fit the specific needs of every child.
Wanting to take her project further and bring it to a worldwide scale, Anastasiou began advocating and spreading the word that she wanted to collect dance costumes to send to girls in developing countries.
At the end, she collected 138 costumes, which she was able to donate to an organization called Traveling Tutus. They helped her send the costumes to countries throughout Africa. Her project, We Can All Dance, was founded on the belief that everyone deserves the chance to dance — no matter what physical, mental or socioeconomic difficulty one faces.
Today, Anastasiou continues to work on her project with the hope of being able to help more children. She has formed meaningful relationships with the children she has worked alongside throughout the way.
Recently, Anastasiou began her own nonprofit organization called Epistles for the Elderly, which encourages teenagers to write down their personal stories, which she then sends to nursing homes throughout the United States.
Anastasiou’s passion for positive change has driven her to pursue a major in international relations on a pre-law track at college next year, after which she aspires to attend law school to become an international criminal defendant. She credits her experience as a Girl Scout for inspiring her to pursue a service-oriented career.