During the thick of the pandemic, Yvette Brinker recognized that her outgoing 10-year-old daughter, Hailey Grace, needed more social experiences than remote learning offered. So she reached out to Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan and started a Girl Scout troop that now meets at the Pontiac Public Library. “I’m happy to say we pursued this and have kept it going,” Brinker says. Why volunteer with Girl Scouts? Brinker can think of dozens of reasons.
“Seeing the girls happy and sharing that happiness is the satisfaction I get from being a troop leader,” Brinker says. “I know I have impacted a child’s life and that means a lot to me.”
When Brinker’s troop was finally able to meet in person, she says she was overwhelmed by the positivity of the parents and their appreciation for having an outlet for their girls. “The parents were all looking for ways to expose their kids to different experiences. We even had a dad show up and all the parents were talking freely and eating together and laughing,” Brinker recalls. “The kids felt like they could breathe, finally out of the house and around people.”
The troop in Pontiac started with just four girls and has grown to nine 6- to 12-year-old girls, with more who show interest in participating. Brinker co-leads the group with a former troop leader whose daughter is now in college. Thanks to a grant, the troop was able to send three girls to camp for free and provide their uniforms and badges.
More than ever, Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan is providing girls and their families with immersive experiences that go way beyond camp, cookies and crafts — although these fun activities do remain a big part of Girl Scouts. But none of this can happen without the dedication of volunteers, says Nafeesah Williams, director of member support with Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan.
Not every Girl Scout volunteer has to be a troop leader, but everyone has something to contribute, Williams says. “We do need troop leaders to make sure a troop is available for all girls in southeast Michigan. If a volunteer is interested in working directly with girls, that’s the best way to do it,” she says.
New troop leaders should know they can rely on getting a lot of support as they establish their troop. “We have first-year troop support specialists to give you a good foundation and a strong connection to the organization,” Williams explains. New troop leaders learn what meetings look like and get tools to run the program. “There are very cool virtual tools available now, too. You can log in and plan out the entire Girl Scout year.”
Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan will also connect new troop leaders with seasoned volunteers who can offer feedback and suggestions about programming, field trips and troop success, Williams says.
But the key to a successful troop is letting the girls lead as much as they can and certainly when it’s age appropriate. “This is a great way for them to develop decision-making skills and leadership skills and it starts as early as kindergarten,” Williams says.
While giving back to Girl Scouts benefits the participants, don’t underestimate how you can reap the rewards of volunteering. “One of my favorite things is to watch a new volunteer progress through the program,” Williams says. “They may be unsure of what to expect, but they develop skills and grow into wonderful leaders.” Managing budgets and creating reports and organizing and leading field trips are tasks that build confidence.
“Girl Scouts offers leadership development for girls, but also for the volunteers as well,” Williams explains. “They don’t realize how valuable their skills are.”
More ways to get involved
Even if you can’t commit to a troop leadership role, there are many ways you can help support Girl Scouts. “I would say open your heart. Any gift you have can help, whether it’s helping a troop with finances, business skills or mentoring. No gift is too small. Can you bake a really good chocolate chip cookie? We want that. Everyone wants to learn what you know,” Brinker says.
Chaperones are always needed for field trips and volunteers can help lead the girls to earn a specific badge. “We also have Mentoring Mondays for women to come and talk about their educational background and career and answer questions from girls who are interested in that field. You can teach a badge in that area without being connected to any particular troop,” Williams says.
The more volunteers, the richer the opportunities and experiences for everyone involved, and there’s no better feeling than contributing to the future of a child, Brinker says. “If you expose a child to different experiences that exist in the world, you can change how they think. I was a flight attendant and traveled all over the world, but some of our girls have never left Pontiac. If Girl Scouts can give them the chance to be supported educationally and physically — even with obstacle courses and climbing walls or the chance to go skiing, that can change their life,” she says.
Learn more about Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan at gssem.org.