Friday, April 21, 2017

Hear It from a Girl Scout Leader: Paving Their Own Way

I’m a third-generation Girl Scout and a second-generation Girl Scout troop leader. I’ve been a troop leader for about seven years now—and what a wild ride it’s been!

My career as a Girl Scout leader began in a rather unconventional (not to mention stressful) way. One evening, while entertaining family members, I heard a knock at my front door. When I opened it no one was there, but there was a box on my doorstep…and a note.

As background, up until that point I’d been a very uninvolved assistant troop leader—not because I didn’t want to be involved, but because our troop leader wanted to run the troop without any help from anyone. I had time and again offered to take some of the weight off her shoulders, but she always passed. And eventually the weight became too much for her to bear.

On that night about seven years ago, with the note on my doorstep, I received all that weight on my shoulders—meaning the troop leader let me know she was quitting the troop and leaving me to run the middle of the Girl Scout Cookie sale.

What followed was a crash course in troop leadership, troop finance, and cookie sale management. The wonderful people at my local council assured and reassured me, lifted me up, and gave me the confidence that I could do this! On leaving a meeting with one of my council representatives, I took a deep breath and began my journey. And I have never looked back.

It has been a journey of self-discovery. I soon realized that there’s much more to being a leader than just following a book of badge requirements—I was helping to shape the courage, confidence, and character of each and every girl who became a part of my troop, no matter how long they stayed. It’s been a wonderful experience.

My girls are a ragtag bunch, and my troop can best be described as organized chaos. We are far from the picture-perfect groups clad in matching, perfectly pressed uniforms you see in photos all over the internet. But we have fun. We make memories. We learn new skills. We help our community. And we are always there for one another. Those things are far more important than making sure every meeting follows the planned agenda to the letter.

Oftentimes, we don’t follow The Girl’s Guide to Girl Scouting. My girls like to pave their own way. They are unconventional. Most of them do not fit the stereotypical Girl Scout mold. For example, although at the beginning of the year when asked what they want to do with their time, they emphatically say, “Earn badges!”—as the Girl Scout year rolls on, I find that they expect much, much more from their Girl Scout experience.

For me, it’s always a challenge to keep them challenged, but I’ve managed to find ways over the years. And the girls of my troop have led me to some very interesting activities and events, including making custom s’mores, experimenting with Diet Coke and Mentos in the parking lot, meeting Darth Vader at a council event, and visiting Home Depot for a building workshop!

In addition, we’ve helped with cleanup at a state park and gazed at a faraway nebula through a high-powered telescope at a local university. We’ve made borax-free slime. Together, my girls have painted and sculpted, sawed and hammered, jumped and played, cooked and ate, laughed and cried…

Looking back on it all, I can honestly say that this has been the most rewarding experience of my entire life. It is such a privilege being able to share these moments with so many wonderful young ladies who no doubt will grow into amazing women. And down the road, I hope they all look back to their time in Girl Scouts with a smile and a chuckle. I hope that I will have made some small difference on their way to becoming successful women.

Because for me, this isn’t about receiving praise. It isn’t about getting a reward. It’s not even about my own daughter, even though she’s the one who brought me to the troop leader role. This is about helping girls grow into the strong female leaders I know they can be. About giving them the tools they need to succeed in life. About giving them a safe place to talk about their hopes, their dreams, even their fears, without judgement or criticism.

So remember, fellow leaders and volunteers, while you might only have girls’ eyes for a short time, they are watching you. You are their role model. You can help them succeed. Right now, it might only be a badge about dancing or archery, or something else that seems insignificant; but in the end, they will know that, through Girl Scouts and through you, they accomplished something grand. And the joyful look in their eyes will be all the thanks you need.