Girl Scouts of Colorado is celebrating extraordinary volunteers throughout the state in honor of Volunteer Appreciation Month. Katie Hone Wiltgen in the Western Colorado region is a shining example of the wonderful role Girl Scout volunteers play in the lives of girls and our community.
GSCO asked Katie 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?
Growing up in a small town in western Ohio, I was a Girl Scout from Kindergarten through high school (Girl Scouts of Appleseed Ridge), and my Girl Scout memories are some of my fondest from childhood. Our troop loved to camp together, sleeping in covered wagons and old, drafty cabins at Camp Myeerah, learning to cook outdoors, exploring the ravines lined by slate rock creeks, singing and laughing around the campfire, and eating more red licorice than a person should consume in a lifetime. My mom (Carol Hone) and Donna Bidlack were our troop leaders, and I’m still so thankful that they made Girl Scouts possible for us, allowing the freedom and providing the support for us to develop our independence and confidence. I wanted that same positive, supportive, growth-oriented Girl Scout experience for my daughter and the other fabulous girls in her grade. Becoming a Girl Scout volunteer allows me to give back and create those Girl Scout possibilities for them, just as Donna and my mom did for us. The group of girls who grew together as troop sisters during those formative years are all still friends today, and even though we’re now spread across the country, we keep in touch via social media and get together whenever we can, celebrating big life milestones, welcoming new babies into the fold, grieving together through tough times, and cherishing each other’s long-time love and support.
Tell us about your different volunteer roles as a Girl Scout.
I serve as co-leader of Troop 16190 in Basalt for our troop of fourth grade Juniors that formed when the girls were in first grade. We now have 12 girls in the troop, and we can’t wait to be back together in person when it’s safe to do so! As a former middle and high school choir and band director and now the Director of Education for the Aspen Music Festival and School, I love to plan curriculum and lead groups of kids, so I take care of the activities and meeting-leading for our troop, while my fantastic co-leader and troop volunteers handle our finances and cookie program management. I’ve also recently taken on the role of co-service unit manager for Service Unit 111 (Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale).
What have you learned as a Girl Scout volunteer?
First, I’ve learned to be even more thankful for my mom and Donna (my troop leaders from childhood), as it is SO much work to do this well, and they were masterful, making the Girl Scout leading process look totally enjoyable and effortless. Oh, if we only knew! But more than that, even as an experienced educator, I’m thankful that the 12 girls in our troop have helped me reconnect with some of the most important elements of being a teacher-leader. I learn so much as a Girl Scout volunteer because our girls are constantly teaching me how to be a better educator, mom, and member of our community. I see their willingness to ask each other and me for help and support, and it reminds me that it’s okay to be vulnerable and reach out to others for assistance. I see their enthusiasm and adorable naïveté, and it reminds me to seek the positivity and disregard the little negative voice in my head that tells me “it can’t be done.” I see their curiosity and bright-eyed wonder, and it reminds me of how important it is to find the child-like magic in everyday moments. I see their flexibility and openness, and it reminds me that sometimes it’s important to leave my curriculum plan behind and make time instead to just talk, bond, and allow everyone to be heard and feel understood. In my four years of working with these girls, they’ve already taught me so much, and they’re only 9 and 10-years-old! I can’t wait to see what comes next in our adventures together.
What do you hope girls have learned from you?
Above all, I hope our girls have learned how important it is to be KIND to one another. In the 15 years that I’ve been teaching elementary, middle, and high school students, I too often see just how vicious girls can be to one another, and it breaks my heart. At our very first parent meeting when we were forming our new troop, I told the group of parents gathered there that my number one goal was to lead these girls to the realization that being benevolent and supportive was so much more powerful than tearing other girls down, and I design every single thing that we do with that mission in mind. I hope our girls have learned that singing classic camp songs is one of the most fun, uplifting things we can do together (they love it!) and that the music we make together is more beautiful than what we could create alone. I hope they’ve discovered that they can tackle big projects and big problems, and that they have the power to do important things and produce meaningful change. And finally, I hope they’ve learned that forming a sisterhood with each other is truly joyful and that those friendships are to be cherished, just as I still cherish my own Girl Scout sister relationships formed back in troop meetings and drafty cabins, through hikes and songs and laughter to last a lifetime, all those years ago.
Want to nominate a volunteer for Girl Scouts of Colorado to spotlight? Please email Public Relations Director AnneMarie Harper at firstname.lastname@example.org.