Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Girl Scouts Become Change-Makers as they Tackle Mental Health in the Community

Saint Clair, Missouri, a small rural community of 4,472 people located along Historic Route 66, is home to a group of dynamic young women who call themselves “Friends for Change.” In an effort to improve their community, the girls are working to create an arts program, and they recently built an outdoor amphitheater in their local park to host it. 

The girls are a part of Challenge and Change, a program for Girl Scouts in rural communities funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This investment is part of Girl Scouts’ ToGetHerThere campaign, the largest fundraising campaign for girls in history.

Powered by investors, Girl Scouts helps girls in rural communities become change-makers as they create and start long-term community service projects. They get plenty of help along the way through a comprehensive curriculum, instruction by specially trained Girl Scout program staff, and mentoring by community champions. Girls even receive seed funding to launch their projects.

But as inspiring as Challenge and Change is in and of itself, the program is also addressing a community issue the girls care about a great deal: mental health. Ten percent of youth in St. Clair have reported considering suicide, and the effects of bullying and depression are also areas of major concern. The girls learned that a lack of arts in rural communities has a negative impact on area youth—indeed, studies have indicated that increased involvement in and access to the arts can significantly decrease emotional problems in adolescents. Arts and theatre programs have, for example, been successful in allowing young people to learn appropriate forms of emotional expression.

After completing the amphitheater the girls were honored for the project by their town’s local chamber of commerce. The theater will benefit 4,000 people, will be available for community use, and will host events such as concerts, plays, art shows, and other gatherings. The positive outcomes of the program projected by the girls include increased social cohesiveness, expanded creative outlets, and improved community relationships. In their short time being involved in Challenge and Change, these young women have not only gained vital skills in public speaking and leadership—they have also realized the power they have to change their community and the world for the better.

“This is just awesome. It’s such a neat feeling. Deep down inside, I always knew that somehow this project would happen.” – Miranda Murphy, girl member