TEMPLE TERRACE — Sixteen-year-old Heather DeReus has a sharp mind. She’s also a master at managing her time.
The Lutz resident graduated earlier this month from the Medical Academy at Tampa Bay Tech with no grade lower than an “A” in all four years at the school. She also received the Navy Junior ROTC Outstanding Cadet award and as captain of the varsity swim team she was granted a Scholar Athlete Award.
The daughter of Carolyn and Harry DeReus will attend the University of Florida where her emphasis of study will be pre-medicine. Following graduation, she hopes to go on to medical school.
In the meantime, Heather has been invited to participate in a summer internship program at Southeastern Center for Digestive Disorders and Pancreatic Cancer. Working alongside some students who’ll soon be entering medical school, her role involves observing and collecting data from surgeries and collaborating on research projects.
An achievement she is particularly proud of is earning the Girl Scout Gold Award in March after completing a project that was a year and a half in the making and took close to 100 hours of her time.
Her project was a prayer garden on the grounds of Temple Terrace United Methodist Church, where she was baptized and has been actively involved throughout her youth.
“I didn’t want it to be a beautification project but a place that encompasses spirituality,” said Heather, a longtime member of Girl Scout Troop 758.
With the assistance of former Girl Scout and master gardener Virginia Overstreet and her grandfather Al Latina, also a master gardener and former president of the Temple Terrace Garden Club, Heather selected, purchased and planted 10 varieties of Florida-friendly plants, each of which is depicted in the Bible.
In addition, she designed a matching number of templates for signs she had engraved with the verses of scripture that mentioned the plants.
The sign at the site of the aloe plant, for example, lists John 19:39-40, Psalm 45:8 and Proverbs 7:17 as verses in the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible where the plant is named.
She also put together a booklet featuring a photo and description of each plant and the detailed Bible verses referring to them.
To finance the project, Heather solicited donations during and after church services, and sold personalized bricks for $100 each that were placed in an area bordering the plants and containing benches where visitors can sit and pray at their leisure.
“As we got the money, we worked on the project, so it was done on a gradual basis,” said Heather, who noted that in addition to getting the project’s initial endorsement by the Girls Scouts of West Central Florida it had to be approved by the church’s board of trustees, the body that also handled the donations and issued checks for the cost of the materials purchased.
Latina, who noted he was delighted to assist his granddaughter, was impressed with how meticulously she handled her undertaking.
“Obviously I’m very proud of her,” he said. “She was so dedicated and spent a lot of time researching.”
Heather’s mother, Carolyn DeReus, describes her only child as being “driven and motivated” to do the best at whatever task she tackles.
“With the prayer garden project, Heather really wanted to do something that would have some meaning,” she said. “And this is one that gives her a legacy.”
The Rev. St. Clair Moore, the church’s senior pastor, portrays the teen as a mature, spiritual young lady who is truly committed to her faith.
“She doesn’t do things for recognition but rather as a testament to her values,” Moore said. “I know she will do very well in life.”
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.