While Girl Scouts cookies are without a doubt delicious and somewhat addictive (fess up – how many of you have eaten a whole sleeve of Thin Mints in a day), Girl Scouts as an organization has a long and proud history of providing girls with learning and leadership opportunities from Daisies (kindergarten) to Ambassadors (high school seniors).
I am proud to have served as a Girl Scout Leader for almost 13 years to Troop 514 in Durham, North Carolina. I have had the privilege of watching 14 sweet little girls grow into amazing young women – all of whom (including my daughter) are graduating from high school this spring. Whether planning a service learning trip to Nicaragua, setting up camp or leading a day long earth day event for younger girls, the focus is on providing girls with the tools and opportunity to exercise three key leadership skills: discover, connect and take action. The process of supporting the girls through their leadership experience over the years has also shaped mine. Figuring out when to step forward and when to lean back has been one area of growth for me. Recognizing my skill sets and when I need to recruit others to help (e.g. anything relating to arts, crafts and singing) is another. And gaining my own confidence in getting through challenging situations (e.g. 1am in the morning, pouring rain, 30 degrees and 10 wet girls in a tent that wasn’t properly installed) has been important.
As my troop has reached the pinnacle of our Girl Scout experience the Gold Award has loomed large. While the Eagle Scout award is well-known, the Girl Scout Gold award has tended to fly under the radar in terms of national visibility. In addition to completing two major Girl Scout “journeys”, young women going for gold spend time identifying an issue that they care about, investigating it thoroughly, building a team, creating a plan, presenting their plan to Council, taking action and educating/inspiring others. As a troop leader who has led girls through Bronze, Silver and Gold awards, there is no doubt that this work is truly challenging.
As both a mom and my daughter’s troop leader, I have had some final leader lessons during this last stage of scouting. First, I’ve realized that project planning and management at this level is a complex skill set that does not come naturally to the average teen. Second, I’ve learned that sometimes the process of putting a project together is where the learning takes place, not necessarily a slam dunk, earth changing impact. Finally, I’m still sorting out how to communicate that leadership can happen at many different levels. Being a leader doesn’t always mean being the person on the front line, directing traffic and in the “lime light”. Leaders, like my daughter, can also be quiet, supporting a team, setting an example and making change happen in their own way from “behind the scenes.” I most assuredly will be a tearful mess at our last Girl Scout camporee in April. There will be singing, badge work, a talent show, s’mores and a closing circle of sisterhood which it has been my gift to be a part of for so many years.
Gold Award Project – by Kylie Verbiest
New forms of media like the Internet and other various social networking can lead to lots of good in this world. For example, the ability to stay connected to friends is easier. However while many good things have come out of new forms of social media, many bad things have appeared as well. Cyberbullying deals the same damage as in person bullying and in some ways can impact a teenager’s life for a longer time. I made this visual novel (click here) in order to raise awareness about cyber bullying, to show the signs of someone being cyberbullied and share ways to help that person. Below I have also supplied links to three great websites that have a lot of great information on this important issue. As I begin my formal study of game design and animation at UNC Asheville this fall, I hope to integrate social change and online safety into the work I do as my personal leadership goal for the future.
Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPH is the Director and Co-Founder of the Every Woman Southeast Coalition. She is also the Executive Director for UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health and the CDC Senior Consultant to the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative.