A few years back when pigtails and Barbie dolls were cool, I was a Girl Scout. Yes, for four years, I proudly sported my Girl Scout pride and joined many others just like me to sell cookies, attend campfires and more.
Yet that all seemed like a distant memory when, as a mom, another mother asked me if I would take a job helping with a Girl Scout troop for our daughters. So I reentered the world of badges, the Girl Scout pledge and cookies in 1996.
At that time, my oldest daughter was in first grade and we thought “sure, why not.” Girl Scouts might be fun. Then when my youngest daughter came of age, we truly needed an outlet for all of her energy. So I decided to start a troop for her. At that time, I thought it was something we might do for a few years, but the kids had so much fun. I began to see that the Girl Scouts was way more than what meets the eye. Needless to say, I was hooked. I ended up leading both troops all the way through high school!
Now, after 20 years, I am crazy about this organization. Why? Well, here are a few things that surprised me the most about the Girl Scouts.
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1 - When my girls started in Girl Scouts, I could quickly see how much fun they were having but most importantly what a great leadership development program Girl Scouts was. I could see young girls doing amazing things that taught them invaluable lessons for the future.
2 - Let’s debunk two myths: you have to be outdoorsy and/or crafty to be a Girl Scout leader. I have zero crafty bones in my body and had almost zero experience with camping. But the beautiful thing about Girl Scouts is you work with other leaders who are crafty and outdoorsy and can lead in that specific area. They also provide training to teach you or your designated volunteer how to camp.
3 - The Girl Scouts needs all types of people. You don't have to have a daughter to be a leader, and you do not need to lead a troop all by yourself. A successful troop leader delegates the job among multiple people who have a variety of skills and interest to successfully inspire, lead and teach these girls.
4 - Girl Scouts is a tremendous growth opportunity for the girls and adults. In my two decades, I’ve been privileged to work closely with my daughters and many other talented young girls who are using Girl Scouts as a platform to address community-wide social issues. Thanks to a challenging awards program, the Girl Scouts encourages girls to reach higher, to stretch beyond their comfort zone to make an impact. When I first started out, more seasoned adult volunteers were kind enough to show me the ropes and mentor me. They taught me about the various Girl Scout programs, the proven ideas, the most useful experiences for a troop and so much more. In fact, thanks to one suggestion, one of the best field trips we ever took was to a police station where my Daisy Girl Scouts got to sit in the back of a police car. Who knew that a simple trip would be so unforgettable? Those Daisies are now 22 and 23 years old and still bring it up.
5 - The most important surprise to me is the cycle of influence we have. As a volunteer, you have the chance to change the direction of many girls’ lives and in turn they go into the world to make a positive difference. Unlike academics and athletics, in Girl Scouts every girl who actively participates can be successful. I currently lead a large outreach troop in a Title 1 school. My team of leaders and assistant leaders hope that by giving our girls the opportunity to be in Girl Scouts we are having a positive impact in shaping their lives. That’s truly a beautiful thing that I get to have a small part in doing.
6 - Girl Scouts is just fun! When I started 20 years ago, I truly had no idea how much I would get out of being involved. It’s changed my life in so many ways. I got to know my daughters' friends in a way that I would not have otherwise. My husband says I do this now for the hugs, and he is partially right. But it’s the simple things that mean the most to these girls. If I get to play a role in letting them know that someone cares, it’s a fulfilling experience to me.
Like me, you might find yourself surprised with how amazing the Girl Scout experience is. I love the impact it has on the community, the girls and surprisingly me!
Julie Stedman is a supermom of the Girl Scouts Hornets’ Nest Council. The mom of two girls, who were Girl Scouts and both earned Silver and Gold Awards pre graduation, has spent 20 years as a volunteer. Six years ago, Stedman started a Girls Go Beyond outreach troop at Rama Road Elementary to provide girls in at-risk communities the opportunity to participate in Girl Scouts. Today, her troop has 77 girls from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Find out more about Girl Scout opportunities in Charlotte at https://www.hngirlscouts.org/ or on Facebook.