Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Richard King Mellon Foundation and Girl Scouts: Want More Girls Outdoors? Train the Adults!

Before any troop leader heads out in the great wide open with her girls, she needs some basic outdoor skills. For volunteers who were Girl Scouts themselves, first aid, building a campfire, and planning a day hike may already be in their toolkit. But for volunteers who didn’t grow up spending time in the outdoors, the thought of planning such an excursion with their troop can be intimidating. In fact, we’ve learned that some adults have such high expectations of themselves, fearing they’ll provide a less-than-perfect experience, that they almost never take their girls outdoors.

That’s where events like Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania’s Outdoor Training Summit come into play. With support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, in September 100 of the council’s volunteers registered for a weekend of outdoor training at Camp Redwing in Renfrew, Pennsylvania . For some participants this meant learning new skills, and for others it was about building existing knowledge—and everyone was there with the goal of getting more girls outside more often.

Ariel, the council’s Student Conservation Association intern for 2017, developed the weekend’s activities for volunteers at all levels of experience. Her own love for the outdoors was sparked in the fifth grade when she attended the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont in Townsend, Tennessee. Offering everything from hiking to plant identification to viewing a tranquilized bear up close, this early experience shaped Ariel’s entire life. Now dedicated to bringing her love of nature to others, Ariel is developed a hands-on program for volunteers at Camp Redwing that builds on knowledge she gained through pursuing her natural resources management degree. She is clearly reaching her goal of helping adults get girls outside.

Ariel believes that if people have a healthy understanding of and respect for the outdoors, they can effectively impart their knowledge and appreciation to others. Outdoor Training Summit attendees who were new to outdoor programming met with Ariel and followed a basic skills curriculum. Now, having mastered skills like fire building, planning an outdoor excursion, and selecting gear, these once-novices are ready to lead girls in outdoor adventures! Also at the summit, more experienced outdoorswomen joined a hike during which they identified plants or cooked complex meals over a fire—and everyone had a blast learning new games and creating nature-based artwork.

Throughout their time at Camp Redwing, volunteers took risks and opened themselves up to bold new experiences. There was cheering when a bowline knot was mastered; a group that participated in a “games challenge” discovered that teamwork + a lack of inhibition can indeed rule the day; and volunteers talked with pride about how their campfire cooking skills had progressed beyond “hobo stew.” There was also a clear sense of accomplishment felt by those who finished CPR training. And at every workshop offered, volunteers asked how they could best share their knowledge with their girls.

It’s easy to see how weekend programs like the Outdoor Training Summit at Camp Redwing and individuals like Ariel can help volunteers get more girls outdoors and appreciating nature. Well equipped to help their troops explore, respect, and have fun in the great outdoors, 100 Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania volunteers are sure to get a great many girls doing just that.

Girls Scouts of the USA thanks the Richard King Mellon Foundation for its continued support and efforts to inspire girls to get outdoors and become lifelong stewards of the environment.

You'll find more advice with Get Girls Outdoors: Four Tips for Council Success.