Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Leslie Vernon-Blake, Like Mother, Like Daughters, Girl Scouts of West Central Florida

With recruitment in full-swing, we are continuing our series that will share stories about some of our amazing volunteers with the entire Girl Scouts community.  There are 30,000 girls waiting for the chance to be a Girl Scout, so the time is now to build our volunteer force!  These exceptional people prove that anyone can be a Girl Scout volunteer:  they are young professionals, senior citizens, men, and so much more.  And 88% of Girl Scout volunteers believe their lives are better because they volunteer. So what are you waiting for? Volunteer today!

Like many parents, Leslie Blake wanted to pass on the things she loved as a child to her three daughters. But none stood out more than her favorite childhood activity: Girl Scouts.

“In Mount Vernon, New York, I had a Girl Scout leader named Ms. Johnson,” recalled Leslie. “I was always encouraged to try new things…like doing plays, crafting, and travelling to Mexico. She was the kindest and most encouraging leader I could have hoped for. I’m sure it’s what motivated me to want my daughters to experience [Girl Scouts] in their own lives.”

“In addition, my mother, Ruth Vernon, inspired me greatly. As a high school counselor and administrator at an inner city school, she motivated so many young women to achieve great things, which I got to see.”

As a troop leader for her youngest daughter, Ajaya (AJ), and her goddaughter, Zenah, Leslie has been leading the same group of 12 girls, many of them since they were Daisies (kindergarteners and first graders). While this is most likely the last troop she’ll lead, she plans to continue volunteering with Girl Scouts in a different capacity. “I’ve led troops for all three of my daughters, and for a period of six years or so I had three troops concurrently. But most of them have grown up and bridged to adults, so this is the last of the bunch.”
Judging by the current whereabouts of her daughters, it seems Girl Scouts instilled a spirit of service and togetherness that persists to this day. Leslie’s oldest daughter, Aisha, graduated college and is doing a year of service in Detroit; and her middle daughter, Jamila, a junior at the University of Delaware, was selected as a National Young Woman of Distinction in 2013.

“It [Jamila’s Gold Award project] was clearly done from her heart, emerging from seeds planted in middle school,” Leslie said. “Her project, Roots for Peace, ended up being such a collaborative effort between Jamila and her sisters and troop as well as the community. Aisha exposed her in middle school to these issues, and then AJ worked hand-in-hand with troop members and other peers on Jamila’s ‘executive committee’ as she called it.”

The unity shown by her daughters, as well as her troop, exemplifies the effect that Girl Scouts has on girls of all ages. But Leslie will accept none of the credit when asked about keeping the girls interested for so long. “It wasn’t me,” she said, “they kept each other together. They set their own course for what they wanted to do. I’d suggest things so they could be exposed to certain aspects, but they’ve incorporated [these things] into activities that are relevant to their lives.”
For example, they worked on resumes while having a pizza party, as most of the girls were evaluating where they wanted to go to college. “They’re more creative than I could ever be,” said Leslie, deflecting all praise to her troop.

But ultimately, Leslie leads by example. She always wants young people to join her as a troop leader, and to carry a torch to lead the next generation. “Just try to create an environment you might have enjoyed as a young person,” Leslie advised. “Try to foster a sisterhood among them where it’s always safe to be who you are and to try new things.”

She remembered one shy girl who blossomed into a confident young woman. “I watched her go from a girl who was uncomfortable talking around her peers, to being onstage with a theater troupe and dancing solo at different events. Years later she let me know that her experience in Girl Scouts helped her test the boundaries of what she could do.” That girl is just one example out of many who have been positively impacted by Girl Scouts. She absolutely will not be the last.