Girl Scouts of North East Ohio is looking for Akron girls and adult volunteers to pilot a unique program that hopes to grow future leaders by teaching them how to improve their neighborhoods.

Girltopia, which is being funded with a $50,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will kick off this fall.

“We’re very excited about showing these girls how they can make a difference,” program director Alanna Nicholas said.

Now through mid-July, Girl Scouts is working to recruit 55 middle school students and 20 high-schoolers for the project. The girls can be scouts already, but the organization also is eager to introduce scouting to girls who have not been in the organization. The grant will cover dues and related expenses.

Also needed are 38 adult volunteers who can serve in a variety of ways:

•?Workshop presenters for a Girltopia symposium.

•?Community members to serve on a discussion panel.

•?Project mentors with knowledge in areas of community outreach, neighborhood planning or community reinvestment.

•?Lead group facilitators to implement a six-week curriculum called It’s Your World — Change It.

•?Co-group facilitators, preferably college students, to assist with the curriculum.

Volunteers will attend training sessions in August, then meet their young proteges Sept. 15 during a kickoff event at the University of Akron. That daylong event will feature workshops and activities to get the girls ready for the yearlong project.

October and November will be dedicated to a curriculum meant to excite the girls about how they can affect the world around them. In December, they will work with community leaders and identify projects they would like to undertake.

From January to March, the girls will be broken into six teams meeting at six different sites in the city of Akron, where they will design and fine-tune their project ideas.

In April, a panel will judge the ideas and award grants of $1,000, $500 and $250 to the top three project ideas so the teams can implement them.

Nicholas said the projects can tackle a variety of topics, from beautification of a neighborhood to anti-bullying issues.

“It’s about teaching them how to be good stewards of their community, and how to use your voice for change,” she said.

Jennifer Thomas, spokeswoman for the Knight Foundation, said Girltopia fits the foundation’s mission perfectly.

“This is an exciting program because it meets our mission of growing informed and engaged communities,” Thomas said, and does it by reaching out to the next generation.

Girls who attend middle or high school and are residents of Akron and adult volunteers interested in helping with the project can call 330-864-9933 or email Nicholas at anicholas@gsneo.org.

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.