Girl Scouts of Colorado is celebrating extraordinary volunteers throughout the state in honor of Volunteer Appreciation Month. Toni Sickinger of Castle Rock in the Metro Denver region is a shining example of the wonderful role Girl Scout volunteers play in the lives of girls and our community.
GSCO asked Toni to answer a few quick questions about her volunteer experience. We hope you find her as inspiring as we did.
Why did you become a Girl Scout volunteer?
My older sister and I were Girl Scouts growing up. The troop my sister was in traveled and went camping and the girls were always really good friends. When they became adults, they still kept in touch, went to each other’s weddings, and celebrated births of children even though they were spread across the country. My troop was not as active. We spent some time in meetings and went camping once and then, the troop disbanded. When I had my daughter, I wanted an experience similar to my sister’s for her.
There was not a troop at my daughter’s school for her age group, so I started one. I had many ups and downs (still do!), but I kept striving to work with the girls in my daughter’s troop and help them become friends, coordinators, and leaders. I feel I achieved my end goal with my original group because now that they are in their adult lives and spread out in different states and colleges, they still get in touch with each other. They are productive, kind, and amazing women who will go far in this world in part because of their time with Girl Scouts.
An unexpected bonus for me is that from some of the programs that I ran early on with the parents in the troop, I became friends with a lot of the moms. I have very good friends to this day that are in my life because of Girl Scouts. I see them out in the community and they always make me smile. Some have moved to different states and we keep in touch through social media. I treasure each and every one of these friendships.
Tell us about your different volunteer roles as a Girl Scout.
I have a lot of different hats that I wear.
Troop level: I am a troop leader. Our troop currently has 32 girls and nine (including me) fully engaged adult volunteers. I lead the Brownie Patrol, coordinate the troop meetings, and coordinate the adult volunteers. We are very active with meetings every other week and usually one extra field trip, activity or event per month, sometimes two extra events. We meet in the summer, although less frequently, and we have some activity or camp/overnight experience every month to keep the girls engaged throughout the year.
It is quite a bit of work to send emails, update the troop website, coordinate meetings, make sure we have snack and craft supplies, and all the other details. But, it is 100% worth it if I can be a part of serving girls with the possibility of achieving that end goal of lifelong friends and helping them gain the leadership skills from the program. To watch these young girls become women is an amazing journey and one that I am proud to be part of.
Troop adult level: I coordinate the adult volunteers for our troop. All of our traditions and ceremonies need an adult to oversee the girls planning and I coordinate the coordinators. We meet once a month to give progress reports and get support from or give support to our team. When I started the original troop, I didn’t have a co-leader or an assistant. All of the moms just helped at the meetings and stayed to satisfy safety ratios. To have cultivated an atmosphere where nine women are actively engaged and working toward a common goal with 30+ girls in four different program levels is a huge accomplishment that I am very proud of.
Unit level: I guess I am the service unit manager. I don’t like to put a title on any one person because we are trying to form a team of people to share this responsibility. It detracts from our goal to have one person as “The Manager.” However, I have taken a large role in the management of our unit and I love it! Our service unit used to be very active and offer tons of activities and events for the girls in the area to get together and meet each other. More recently, we haven’t been as active. We are trying to get back to the really active, healthy unit. I am excited to share knowledge and allow leaders time to talk, learn, and network at monthly meetings. We are working toward an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome. I hope to see growth and more volunteers attending the service unit meetings. The leaders that I am getting to know are awesome and creative and so valuable! And awesome for our girls!
Older girl mentor and trainer: As I went through the program with my daughter and her group, we learned that some things could be done differently for better success. The older girl training program is one of those things. My daughter and I attended several different PA training courses. The one that stuck and was the best for her was the very first one where the trainers had the girls playing games and interacting with each other. Some of the materials need to be in discussion format, but a lot can be learned through games getting up and moving. As my daughter’s group of girls became Senior scouts and Ambassadors, they felt passionately about the older girls training and wanted to bring it closer to our area. They wanted to give the program to the younger Cadettes in a way that allowed their spark to show and to successfully engage the girls. I facilitated them becoming VIT’s and ultimately in their senior year of high school, they became PA Trainers themselves. We wrote the program to maintain council standards, but to also suit them. We have successfully trained PA’s for the past four years. As I listened and sat back and let them do, I learned their way and with my daughter’s help, we are continuing their program and training and mentoring Cadette and older girls.
Adult Trainer: In my experience, living a distance from the city and conserving time and trips where I can, I felt we needed more options for adult training closer to home. I didn’t like to have to wait for the large adult training events. I didn’t like having to drive 30 or 45 minutes one way to receive the mandatory training. I also feel that new leaders should be able to access the information as quickly as they want it. I feel passionately about giving the adults the tools they need to successfully lead their troop.
I think that just lectures and discussions are less effective than getting the adult volunteers active and engaged. I do have some discussions in the training classes that I offer but I try to give information through games and activities more. Just like the girls, if you get adults working in small groups or as a whole big group, so many more ideas are put into the mix. And, it is more fun and engaging.
For several years, I offered a Leadership Team Retreat for the women I work closely with in our troop. It is an amazing weekend that helps our team bond and gives us time to concentrate on Girl Scouts without the daily life interruptions. Our first retreats covered all requirements for Program Level 101s.
More recently, I began offering Cooking and Camping training. This is part lecture, but more hands on as I feel this class needs to be. I feel camping and allowing the girls to cook is a vital part in any troop. I love being able to offer the training close to home!
Last fall, I offered the retreat statewide. Retreat has consistently covered the Program Level 101 requirements, but when I became a trainer for the Cooking and Camping training, I realized it wasn’t too big of a leap to have it cover the Cooking and Camping requirements as well. So working with an amazing staff member at council, we piloted the dual program. I am offering it again in late March. With a few tweaks, I am excited to see if we can improve the flow of the weekend. I was really really excited to hear from another area of the state that is considering offering this retreat for their leaders and asked for my input on how I do it. It has been such a long journey to get the 101 credit for the leaders at the retreat and now that it is taking off and covering more of the mandatory training and being offered in other areas is a great accomplishment.
What have you learned as a Girl Scout volunteer?
Being a Girl Scout volunteer gives me so much. When you get to witness a girl make a break through from selling cookies, it is amazing. When you are approached at a back -to-school night or parent teacher conference and asked by a teacher if you are the Girl Scout leader and subsequently told stories about how your Girl Scouts are performing AMAZINGLY at school because of the training they are receiving at Girl Scouts, it is an incredible feeling. When you see girls that went through your program now working in the community and they see you and they run up and hug you and introduce you to whoever is around as their Girl Scout Leader, words can’t describe the feeling.
I have learned that a good leader is also a good listener. It’s sometimes better to let girls (or adults) talk it through with the group and just interject to keep the discussion on target. Better decisions are made if everyone can voice their opinion and you can have an open discussion about it.
I have learned that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfection to Brownies is different than it is to older girls or adults.
I have learned that I use the Girl Scout Law to make big decisions in my life. Using those key qualities helps me make tough decisions.
I have learned that each group of girls reads the program materials differently. I have been through some of the Journeys more than once with different groups and it is astounding every time I do them because the girls bring such different insights, it makes the Journey completely different every time.
I have learned that I love to organize to support girls and adults in their goals and achievements.
What do you hope girls have learned from you?
I hope girls learn that it doesn’t matter if you can or can’t hold a tune. If you want to sing and it makes you happy, sing!
I hope the girls have learned that it doesn’t matter if your hair is a mess and you don’t have the most fashionable clothes. What matters is being a good friend and being nice to people.
I hope the girls have learned that including everyone and being kind makes the world a better place.
I hope they take away one lifelong friend from the program.
I hope they learn so much! Just being a part of their lives and helping them and watching them grow is what keeps me volunteering.
How has your experience as a volunteer helped you become a G.I.R.L. (go-getter, innovator, risk-taker, leader)?
A little background, I started my business, a hair and nail salon, in 1991. The lady that I opened the business with was awesome and she tried to help me. She retired in 1994. I did okay for a while and then I had to get a second job. The business was okay, but I couldn’t take the financial risk. I kept my business open just barely part time and worked for several other employers because of finances. None of them were satisfying emotionally or spiritually. Only financially. I started the first troop in 2004. I struggled and worked two jobs and kept the troop. I volunteered and put my career on the back burner for my daughter. Leading the girls and helping them become friends and leaders became my focus. As I worked toward that goal, I decided that I was good enough and worth the risk. I decided that I could improvise and add to my business and be successful on my own without an employer giving it to me. I decided to go after what I wanted and try to achieve financial and spiritual freedom. I took the leap in 2016. It was a huge risk to choose my family and friends over finances. Since then, I have been working just my business and helping my hubby run his business, a little Coffee Stop. I don’t need someone else to give me a paycheck. I can go after what I want. I have enhanced the services I offer. I educate my clients and try to lead them to consistent home care. Biggest risk I ever made and one that has been successful. Times are not always easy, but working with people and with Girl Scouts and making small changes consistently make me happy.
Want to nominate a volunteer for Girl Scouts of Colorado to spotlight? Please email Public Relations Director AnneMarie Harper at email@example.com.
The nomination deadline for 2020 Volunteer Recognition Awards is April 30. GSCO invites members statewide to take this opportunity to recognize an outstanding volunteer by nominating them for a Volunteer Recognition Award. Nominators are responsible for ensuring enough endorsements are submitted to support their nomination of a volunteer for an award. Your volunteer support specialist can check nomination and endorsement submissions for you. Learn more.