Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Volunteering with Girl Scouts has, in many ways, taught me more than any college class

Guest post from Girl Scout troop leader Tara Foulkrod, originally published on LinkedIn.

Many people I talk to seem clearly impressed when I tell them I volunteer with Girl Scouts on a regular basis. Common questions and statements include: “How do you do it?” “Isn’t it difficult to be around that many girls?” “Oh! When are the cookie sales?” “Why?” There’s also the all-too-familiar “I wouldn’t be able to handle that.” Many of these statements arise from the fact that I’m a full-time working mom and also a full-time college student.

I get it—it seems like a lot to handle—and some days it is. In fact, I’ve recently had to push off some of my duties as the [troop’s] junior leader because planning for our meetings on top of work and school started to become too much for me. That hasn’t stopped me from attending every meeting I can and going to camp with the girls, though. Because for me, being a part of Girl Scouts is just as much, if not more, of a learning experience than being in college. I can explain by answering some of the questions noted above.

“How do you do it?”

Honestly, this is kind of a common-sense question. How does anyone do anything? They just do it. Sure, I’m busy, but so is everyone else. Some people are far busier than I would ever hope to be. The key is to plan ahead and have a strategy. I know when the meetings are, so I plan as much as I can to leave work a little bit early so that I can get the girls and make it to the meeting on time.

I usually carpool two girls along with my own daughter, and sometimes my son (he’s friends with another scout brother). I work downtown, but we live in a rural area outside the city. The closest troop happened to be in a slightly different rural area, so I divert my drive home in order to carpool to the meetings. On these nights, I usually don’t make it home until almost 9:00 p.m., but it’s a Friday so it’s all good. 

“Isn’t it difficult to be around that many girls?”

While this might sound like a strange question [in relation to] a normal Girl Scout troop, it’s a perfectly reasonable question when it comes to our super-sized troop. Because we live in a rural area, and because there are a number of siblings embedded in the troop, we actually have a multi-level troop. What that means is instead of your average 5–10 girls who are all the same age/grade level, we actually have upwards of 60 registered girls ages 5–18 (kindergarten to 12th grade).

Yes, some days it’s a lot to deal with. Most days, it’s extremely beneficial not just for the parents and leaders, but also for the girls themselves. Our large troop consists of girls with various skills, strengths, and leadership abilities. That means there’s almost always someone around with some type of experience or knowledge in whatever badge we’re pursuing. The “bigs” help the “littles” learn new things, and vice versa. It’s amazing to watch and experience as an adult because you’re literally watching them grow into independent women in real time.

At camp, everything is girl-led. The leaders and volunteer parents are there to keep an overall watch over the camp, but all activities, including cooking and cleanup, are up to the girls to accomplish. We have a rule in our troop—there are no “moms” at camp, which simply means that we are not there to clean up or do things for the girls. It’s very liberating for both the girls and the adults. Girls get to feel more independent, and adults get to feel slightly less stress. Meanwhile, the older girls act as camp counselors for the younger girls, giving them a sense of responsibility and a leadership opportunity.


This is actually a really good question. I wonder myself, sometimes, when I’m having a stressful day before a meeting. On those days, I still reluctantly go. It’s then that I’m instantly reminded why:

The girls.

I have watched my own daughter grow from a Daisy to a Brownie and now a Junior. I’ve seen multiple girls grow up in this troop in the five short years I’ve been involved. Some are now getting ready to go to college. Some have left the troop but are doing amazing things in other groups like 4H or clubs at their school, like art and even welding.

I watch these girls become strong, independent doers. They’re not content to just sit back and watch things happen. They create. They imagine. They volunteer and give back. They try to make the world a better place.

And I’ve helped them get there. I have notes thanking me for listening and for just being “awesome.” I’m not even as involved as a good chunk of the volunteers in our troop, and I give major kudos for their work and support of these girls and their families.

But most of all, I stay and I volunteer because these girls teach me. They’ve taught me to be more patient and forgiving. They’ve noticed things and people that can be fixed or helped that I had turned a blind eye to. Some of them are much braver than I have ever been, and have gone through childhoods I would never wish on anyone. For some of them, Girl Scouts is their “normal.” And for all of them, Girl Scouts helps them find themselves, even if only for a small part of their lives.

These aren’t things you learn sitting in a college classroom. They’re things you have to experience.

“I wouldn’t be able to handle that.”

Maybe not, and that’s OK. Volunteering with kids isn’t for everyone. But you can still support [the work]. If you hear of a troop doing something for the community, see if there’s something you can donate to help their cause. Maybe a tour of your workplace or career. Even small gestures can help—because even the smallest things are teaching these girls about the bigger outside world, turning them into amazing individuals.

Remember: behind most every promising person is an adult (or adults) who helped them somewhere along the way.