Anya Nicoll of Freedom earns Girl Scouting’s highest honor for work to change law
FREEDOM, NH – Death, and especially planning for it, is always difficult. Those who do look ahead to that inevitable time may soon have a more environmentally friendly option when considering the final resting place for their body, thanks to work by a Gold Award Girl Scout to repeal a state law requiring embalming within 24 hours of death.
Anya Nicoll, 18, of Freedom, a Girl Scout Ambassador in 12th grade, earned Girl Scouting’s highest honor, the Gold Award, by working with state Rep. Jerry Knirk (D-Freedom, Tamworth, Madison, Albany), to repeal RSA 325:40-a, which simply states: “No dead human body shall be exposed to the public for a period in excess of 24 hours unless said body is properly embalmed.” Since many burials can’t take place within 24 hours for a variety of reasons, funeral directors typically embalm bodies as a matter of course. Those who prefer to be interred without embalming, concrete vaults, and caskets in New Hampshire run into not only this law but entrenched attitudes about what is proper and right to do.
For the funeral industry, green burials represent a loss of income on the standard burial costs. At a hearing at the New Hampshire State House, several representatives of the industry expressed their opposition to the repeal on health and safety grounds.
Nevertheless, the bill passed the House committee 21-0, was approved on a House vote, and had a hearing in the state Senate on March 23. Rep. Knirk said senators seem to be interested in amending the bill, so he is working with stakeholders to develop language for that.
“The language change would be modest and I think that, if the Senate committee agrees, it will pass the Senate,” he said. “If it passes, the House will need to concur with the language change, which I think is likely, and it would probably be signed into law as it is not a very politically charged issue. If it fails, we could consider bringing forth a similar bill next year. More importantly, Anya will still need to work on the other aspect of the project—working with our local Freedom cemetery to change the rules. We are working on developing a workshop presentation by Lee Webster, who has helped us on the bill, for the public and cemetery trustees this spring.”
Nicoll said that when she began the project, she had no idea how funeral directors would react.
“The most prominent obstacle I encountered was the resistance to green burials,” said Nicoll. “Many times when I was simply inquiring or asking a question, I was met with hostility, anger, and plain rudeness.”
“Through the implementation of my project I have impacted both our nation and our greater human community via protection of our earth,” she wrote in her final report for her Gold Award project. “In opening to the residents of New Hampshire the option for a natural burial process, we will reduce the amount of land consumed by a traditional burial. Further, it educates people on the amount of greenhouse gases contributed to our atmosphere through cremations. Therefore, through the choice of natural burials we will have more land available and less damaging chemicals in our waterways and in our air saving our earth for future generations.”
She pointed out that what we consider green burial today is how people were buried throughout history until recently. “This statute didn’t come into effect until the ‘70s,” she said. “It’s not a newfangled thing nobody’s done before. And you’d be helping the environment.”
“The current negotiations in the Senate are giving her a good example of how convoluted the legislative process can be and the need to persevere,” said Knirk. “Same with the work on the local level. We hit some real obstacles at the local level at first. I hope that this experience gives her real-world lessons on the need to keep pushing and not give up.”
Nicoll does not plan to give up. Even if her attendance at college makes it difficult to testify in the future, she will work on the local level and has gotten a team of like-minded people to aid in her effort.
She’s learned a lot about politics, and gained skills in public speaking, time management, and how to advocate for a cause she believes in.
“When I started it, I thought there’s no way I can even finish this,” she said. “Looking back now, I actually did it! I feel like sometimes myself and other girls kind of sell ourselves short a lot of the time. You can do things like this. I can do more than I thought I could. I learned a lot about government – it’s a bit messy, it takes time to change. But you can change things if you put in the time and effort.”
Nicoll has been a Girl Scout for 10 years, starting as a Brownie. One of her favorite memories of her time in Girl Scouting is a trip she took to Europe with Girl Scouts, highlighted by a visit to Our Chalet in Switzerland, one of five World Centers of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. She attended Girl Scout summer camp at Whispering Pines for several years, and sold cookies as part of her Girl Scout experience. She and her sister, Tava, also a Girl Scout, competed to see who could sell the most, and in total sold about 3,000 packages of cookies. The proceeds she earned from those sales over the years paid for her Europe trip and summer camp.
“So many people don’t realize all the opportunities that Girl Scouts offers,” said Nicoll. “I got to fly a plane with Girl Scouts!” through a program that offered a chance to fly with a licensed pilot.
She gives credit to her mother, who is also her troop leader. As a homeschooled student, the family made sure to take advantage of all Girl Scouts has to offer. Nicoll is also an accomplished gymnast, taking first place in floor at a state championship.
This bright and driven Girl Scout plans to attend college in the fall, with plans to go into materials engineering, a field her parents’ business has already introduced her to.
● ● ●
Gold Award Girl Scouts don’t just change the world for the better, they change it for good. The Gold Award is earned by girls in grades 9–12 who demonstrate extraordinary leadership in developing sustainable solutions to local, national, and global challenges. Since 1916, Girl Scouts have answered the call to drive lasting, impactful change. They earn college scholarships, demonstrate high educational and career outcomes, and are active in their communities.
Anya Nicoll has answered the call to drive lasting, impactful change, and her Gold Award is a testament to her remarkable dedication to improving her community and the world.
About the Girl Scout Gold Award
- Gold Award Girl Scouts on average spend one to two years on their project.
- A Gold Award project must be sustainable after the girl’s involvement ends.
- The average age of Gold Award Girl Scouts is 17.
- Since 1916, more than 1 million girls have earned the Gold Award or its equivalent.
- Gold Award Girl Scouts are entitled to enlist at a higher pay grade when they join the military.
- University research indicates that noting you are a Gold Award Girl Scout on a college application is influential in the admissions decision-making process.
- Thirty young women from New Hampshire and Vermont earned their Gold Award in the 2020-2021 membership year as part of Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains.
- The Girl Scout Gold Award is the mark of the truly remarkable.
We Are Girl Scouts
Girl Scouts bring their dreams to life and work together to build a better world. Through programs from coast to coast, Girl Scouts of all backgrounds and abilities can be unapologetically themselves as they discover their strengths and rise to meet new challenges—whether they want to climb to the top of a tree or the top of their class, lace up their boots for a hike or advocate for climate justice, or make their first best friends. Backed by trusted adult volunteers, mentors, and millions of alums, Girl Scouts lead the way as they find their voices and make changes that affect the issues most important to them. To join us, volunteer, reconnect, or donate, visit girlscouts.org.
Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains serves girls throughout New Hampshire and Vermont through volunteer-run troops, events, and virtual programs. Visit www.girlscoutsgwm.org to learn more.