Girl Scouts making a difference as they become leaders

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 12, 2014

Imagine the change we could bring about if, as a community, we paused twice a month to ask ourselves questions like: “What can we do to make a lasting difference?” and “What good can we inspire that will take on a life of its own?” Wouldn’t the world be a better place?
At Girl Scout Troop 1434’s Sunday afternoon meetings in Salisbury, leaders and Scouts ask those questions and turn the answers into meaningful change.
Leadership and service are central themes among all of Troop 1434’s Scouts, Daisies (kindergarten) through Seniors (12th grade).
“Each month we collect an item, usually food or clothes, for a different charity,” said Ambassador Scout Josie Vermillion, 16. The troop’s regular community service efforts include the collection of food for Rowan Helping Ministries and teddy bears for first responders.
One of 32 troops in Rowan County, Troop 1434 is part of the Charlotte-based Hornets’ Nest Council which encompasses eight counties and, in 2013, served 15,841 girls.
“Our mission is to build girls of courage, confidence and character who will make the world a better place,” said Colleen Young, vice president of development and communications for the council. The Hornets’ Nest Council has innovated programs that are now nationwide, for example Scouting for the Cure which promotes early detection of breast cancer.
As Troop 1434’s Daisy Scout Ella Cooler, 7, created a “help your family” chore chart at a semi-monthly troop meeting, Junior Scouts (grades four and five) and their parents met with head troop leader Monica Humphries to discuss plans for their bronze service awards.
“Look around for something in our community that needs to be helped. What can we do to help it?” asked Humphries. A Rowan-Salisbury School System bus driver and dance studio office manager, Humphries was herself a Girl Scout and has two Scout daughters ages 13 and 16.
Bronze (for grade schoolers), silver (middle schoolers) and gold (high schoolers) service awards are a major focus for many of the troop’s Scouts. To receive an award, Scouts must identify a community issue and then create and execute a plan that has a sustainable and measurable impact. Projects take one to two years, sometimes longer, to complete. Gold Awards — the highest attainable Girl Scout achievement — are especially distinguishing, with just 34 recipients in 2013 within the entire Hornets’ Nest Council.
While scouting is often about giving, the Scouts have a lot to gain in the process. “Girls develop a strong sense of self, positive values, critical thinking skills, and healthy relationships,” said Young.
“I’ve been a Girl Scout since seventh grade,” said Caitlyn McDonnell, 15, Senior Girl Scout. “It gives you perspective, lets you learn how to get along with people and have patience.”
Scouts also acquire desirable leadership skills for college admissions applications. Gold Award recipients who choose to enter the armed forces enter at an entire rank above all other entrants.
Fundraising and volunteer support are the two primary legs on which Girl Scouts stands. In 2013, 73.5 percent of the Hornets’ Nest’s operating revenue came from the sale of cookies, candies, nuts and magazines. This year’s cookie sales were down across the council due to winter storms. That said, Rowan County sold more than 58,000 packages of cookies and also produced the top-selling Scout in the council, Melanie Grooms of Rockwell, who sold 2,000 packages.
Another critical fundraiser is the organization’s Family Campaign which collects money for the upkeep of Girl Scout properties and financial assistance for Scouts who need help paying for registration fees and other participation expenses.
For volunteers, Girl Scouts offers options “ranging from one-time opportunities to year-long commitments … to provide (the girls) with the premiere leadership experience,” said Young. Rowan County currently has 223 adult volunteers. Interested adults are encouraged to reach out to or call 704-348-9600 for more information.
Recruitment meetings are held at elementary schools in September.
“Recruitment is not just for the girls but for troop leaders as well,” said Humphries. Every year there are interested Scouts unable to be placed because of troop shortages. “Really all it takes to be a leader is someone who’s willing.”
While memberships in Girl Scouts across the country have been flat, Hornets’ Nest has seen a steady increase over the past 10 years. “That the older girls are staying involved so long is a testament to what they are being offered,” said Humphries.
With the Girl Scouts celebrating their 102nd anniversary this year, the program’s benefits to girls and their communities is time-tested.
Added Humphries: “Girl Scouts is a leadership experience, a skill set for these girls to be true leaders by the time they hit high school. And I believe that these girls are.”