Building leaders

Girl Scouts of Martha’s Vineyard builds friendships and responsibility.

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From left, Girl Scouts Sylvia Carroll, Grace and Carly Coggins hang out with their troop for a bowling night at the Barn, Bowl and Bistro. —Gabrielle Mannino

Last Friday night, my daughter and I joined fellow Girl Scouts to celebrate a group of girls who were moving up from the Junior troop to the Cadettes. The girls laughed together, goofed off, argued over bowling balls, and ate pizza. Over the past year together, they sold cookies, earned badges, and did community service projects while building their friendships with one another. “I just like how you get to hang out with different people,” said one seventh grader.

Friendship is one of the central themes of Girl Scouting. Carol Vieira, who started scouting as a Brownie in the late 1980s, is now the leader of the Brownie troop. She says that the important things have remained the same. “The core values are friendship, leadership, and responsibility to your community,” Vieira said. “The goal is to have a roomful of girls have a positive experience together.”

Deborah Mayhew of West Tisbury was a Girl Scout in the early- to mid-1960s. “One thing very nice about it was that it was Island-wide (or at least included Vineyard Haven), and so I met girls not in my school before going to Vineyard Haven School the following year,” she says. “I also remember an overnight camping experience, in cabins somewhere in Chilmark.” That would have been Camp Wampanoag, a small campsite that the Girl Scouts still own and use now.

Alice Robinson volunteered for the Island’s Girl Scouts for more than 35 years. “Before there were sports for girls, there wasn’t a way to connect girls across the Island except for Girl Scouts and 4-H,” she says. Interest waned, however, as more activities became available to girls and it became harder to find parents and other adults who were willing to make time to volunteer, but scouting has perennial appeal, and a modest revival is taking place on the Island, as girls continue to be interested in the unique opportunities it offers.

The troops are girl-led. As girls get older, they take on more and more responsibility for running their own meetings and choosing their own activities, projects, and adventures together. It’s an opportunity to learn leadership as well as compromise, how to work together and help others. Getting outdoors is something that isn’t built into the routines of many Island kids, who are often busy with school and other activities, not to mention screen time. Hikes and camping are a fundamental part of the Girl Scout experience, and one that I am committed to strengthening in our local program as a Girl Scout leader.

The Girl Scouts’ national organization strives to keep its programs relevant and engaging by listening to what girls, parents, and volunteers say they like most. Programs are organized around four areas, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), the outdoors, life skills, and entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurship area is exemplified by the well-known Girl Scouts cookie program, which can be an opportunity for girls to set goals and manage money. It also funds troop activities like the bowling party, camping trips, and off-Island trips, and contributes to covering summer camp costs for some girls. This year, there are new badges in engineering, computer science, and environmental stewardship, among others.

The cookie sales and other fundraisers offset almost all of the troop’s costs, making this a very low-cost activity. For girls who continue beyond the younger grades, the Girl Scouts can provide many more opportunities, from becoming more independent by going to off-Island sleepaway camps to the opportunity to earn higher awards, including the Gold Award, Girl Scouting’s less-well-known equivalent to becoming an Eagle Scout.

Grace and Carly Coggins, 11-year-old twins who attend the Vineyard Montessori School, earned their Bronze Award with a project supporting the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard. They raised $300 for the shelter, and volunteered for a day by helping to socialize the kittens. Carol Vieira earned the Silver Award when she was in high school. Through People to People International, she had traveled to Australia, representing the state of Massachusetts. On her return, she reached out to Girl Scouts around the world and organized a project that she presented at the Agricultural Fair, completing a project that promoted international relationships and understanding.

My own path to volunteering to be a Girl Scout leader has been gradual. My daughter joined the Brownies at the beginning of second grade, and I didn’t take on any leadership role for her first two years. Another year later, Marcy Holmes, a fellow volunteer, talked me into doing tent training. Now, I find myself as co-leader of the Junior Troop with Peggy Chambers, who co-led the Brownies last year and whose daughter is also in the troop.

For adult volunteers, the benefits of Girl Scouting include training and leadership opportunities, plus the chance to connect with fellow volunteers and girls we might not have gotten to know in our daily work and family lives. Many of the current volunteers here are mothers of girls in the program, but others don’t have children of their own. Jessica Tartell, the Cadette leader, and Emily LaPierre, the Daisy leader, were both in Girl Scouts when they were growing up, and are giving back to the organization by volunteering. “My favorite memories were going on community service field trips, camping, and earning badges with my peers,” LaPierre says. “Quite a few of my friendships today were made from doing Girl Scouts!”

If you or your daughter would like to get involved, contact Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts or seek out one of our local volunteers. You can find out more and sign up via the website gsema.org, but it’s easier and often more efficient to sign up by phone at 800-882-1662.