Submitted by Kate Goodman
Sometimes, when I’m in the throes of planning meetings and activities, I wonder, “What are we really doing? Is all my work as a troop leader or volunteer worth it?”
This past weekend, I got an answer. I want to share a story about a recent service unit campout, and my A-ha! moment with my troop of 8th grade Cadettes.
It was a hectic week to begin with – a few weeks into the school year. Another leader was planning to take our four Girl Scouts up to Tomahawk Ranch for the service unit campout on Friday night, because I was coming home from a work trip late Friday. I would come up Saturday morning with the materials our troop was using to do a craft with the younger girls: a quick flashlight using copper tape, craft sticks, and those little lightbulbs- LEDs.
On Tuesday, my co-leader reported her car was out of commission, so we scrambled and found another parent who could shuttle the five of them to Tomahawk Ranch on Friday. With that settled on late Tuesday, I got up early on Wednesday and assembled the health and permission forms. I worked, then hurried home and caught my flight to a conference. I arrived home late Friday to learn everyone had gotten off safely to the campout. Relieved, I fell into bed, planning to quickly pack first thing in the morning.
I woke and began assembling my sleeping bag and day pack. A quick search of the craft materials sent my heart into adrenaline-fueled thumping – I couldn’t find two of the essential items – the copper tape and the bag of LEDs. I’d had to special order these – I wasn’t going to breeze through the craft store and get more on my way out of town. After a staticky call to my service unit leader up at camp to verify my daughter hadn’t packed these things, I resigned myself to needing to brainstorm a NEW hour-long activity for the younger girls, and began my hour-plus long drive to reach Tomahawk. In the meantime, my co-leader shared the trouble with the Cadettes, and the girls began brainstorming.
An hour later, I arrived at camp, found the location of our station, and started talking to my co-leader and girls and a bonus Cadette from another troop.
They didn’t need my ideas. They had come up with a name-learning game, appropriate song, and activity around fire pit safety and how to start a fire, complete with hands-on gathering of ‘dead and down’ tinder, kindling, and fuel. The younger Girl Scouts had a great time at our station. They asked good questions. They joined in on the song. And they set up mock camp fires, using the “log cabin” structure – wait no, my troop taught them it was the “hashtag.” (Aaaand now I feel old.)
Five rotations later (with a lunch break in the middle) my troop had educated more than 100 other girls on these concepts. Mostly, I had stood back and watched. I occasionally pointed out the time to help them stay on schedule. I didn’t need to design the craft for them. I didn’t need to tell them how to simplify certain concepts or to make it fun. I didn’t have to tell them to split up the leading time and make sure they included our bonus Cadette. They just did it.
That was my answer. I needed to say less, suggest less, and listen more. It took a panicked-filled hour-long drive from home to camp to come to terms with it, but there it was. Girl Scouting was working exactly as designed, and my troop was living proof.
That evening, when my daughter set up and lit the campfire for the entire service unit, nearly single-handedly*, the younger girls called out encouragement and concern (she had to sit inside the extra-large stone ring to set up and start the fire). Here, I realized, was the whole Girl Scouting mission in one day: older Girl Scouts drawing upon their knowledge and skills to teach the younger girls, and then showing them that they, not the adults had the ability to do things for themselves. It didn’t hurt that it all ended with roasting marshmallows for s’mores!
* This is a whole other story!
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