Today I'm sharing a letter to new Girl Scout Leaders in hopes of talking other new, possibly overwhelmed Brownie and Daisy Leaders off the ledge. There are a couple affiliate links in this post too.
This open letter is to any Girl Scout Leader out there who signed up to help, just expecting to contribute some goldfish crackers and a craft, and then all of a sudden found herself with the ominous title of (insert echo voice) Girl Scout Leader.
I had the please of meeting a mom in your shoes recently and realized that it has been one year since *I* was in your shoes.
Now. There are plenty of life-long Girl Scouts out there, who always looked forward to leading a troop. I have several in my Area Council, and they are nothing but helpful. There are also many leaders out there who have been doing this for years and signed on to lead a second or third younger troop, out of the goodness of their hearts.
I'm sure there is a letter out there to you, and I truly hope it is one filled with the gratitude that you deserve. This letter isn't so much for you though. I thank you for all that you do and for being a helpful resource….but we also don't want to bug you, and FYI, there are some of us newbies who hear everything you say as a foreign language. Sorry. We will get there but, wow this is overwhelming.
This letter is to those of us who fell into being a Girl Scout Leader with no idea what a Journey or a SWAP is. We're in charge of teaching the girls all these skills and we can barely get through a leader binder or squeeze in a training video. In fact- wait- am I supposed to be watching training videos?!
If this sounds like you, then please do read on.
Dear Brand New Girl Scout Leader,
I wanted to write this letter to you today because I know the overwhelm and anxiety you might be feeling when you hear the worlds “our next Girl Scout Meeting.”
I know the feeling of being excited to spend special, dedicated time with your daughter and her friends- yet being terrified because you're the one that has to fill that time.
I was in your shoes one year ago and I want to tell you something: It will be okay!
Let me tell you how it went for me.
Last year I accidentally found myself in the Leader position in my daughter's brand new Girl Scout Troop.
I was a girl scout as a child but didn't stay in it long enough to have had a drive to “one day be my daughter's girl scout leader.” I'm now a stay at home mom with this part time blogging gig, which I barely tell anyone about, because, ew Mommy Blogs.
When we went to my daughter's open house, we filled out an interest form for girl scouts. Although my own troop leader was an amazing, dedicated woman who was the mom of one of my best friends, it didn't occur to me that one of us was going to have to be the leader.
Much like when you sign up your kids for park district sports, every team needs a parent to coach it. But they also need helpers.
So I checked the box where it said, “I can help out” on the form, expecting to help lead the troop in song one meeting, or bring a craft or some goldfish crackers another week. To HELP the leader, not to BE the leader.
I am not a Leader type of person. I'm silly, talkative and outgoing, even around kids. But…collecting dues, forms, bank accounts, planning….none of those are in my wheel house.
Next thing I know I attended a meeting with another parent and our area council leader where we all agreed that it made sense that I be named the leader, along with two parents as co-leaders. (I was ridiculously lucky to have co-leaders, I know everyone doesn't.)
But. Gulp. That word. Leader.
As I started to look at all the materials, the binders, the forms, the notebooks, the official websites, the unofficial website, Pinterest. I could feel myself slowly sinking down into the water….in over my head.
The sheer amount of information out there for leaders is incredible. Generous and helpful, but also overwhelming to distraction. Kaper Charts, Fun Patches, Crafts, Swaps, Songs. GAH! What even IS a Kaper Chart?!
All I wanted was to latch onto an existing troop and just have one of those veteran leaders tell us what to do. But they had their own troops to handle. They could answer questions and help but it was up to us to get this troop up and running.
To ratchet things down a notch, let me just stop you and tell you something that may not be so obvious right now, as you wade through Pinterest. You are doing something amazing just by being there for the girls, and they will enjoy being in that special group just because it is a special group.
My own memories form Girl Scouts bear that out: My leader was someone that I came to call MomZimm. I love her so much that to this day it makes me teary eyed with gratitude.
When I was little, MomZimm snapped a seemingly inconsequential photo of me and my dad at a Daddy Daughter Dance. About two decades later, after she attended my wedding, she sent me an amazing gift. It was a double photo frame with that old photo right next to a photo of my dad and I dancing at my wedding. I mean, are you crying? Because I'm crying and everyone is crying.
The point is not to make you feel like you need to be super troop leader, but to let you know that you are making an impact in their lives just by being there. And last year, after all my apologizing and lack of being organized, and not know what on earth I was doing, it was totally fine. We made it through.
In the end, we squeezed in a whole set of Daisy Petals into one year (we started as first graders) but we set in motion friendships that I can tell will last a long time. The kids made memories, and so did the parents.
The moment I will never forget was at the end of the year, after our troop crossed the stage at our council Bridging Ceremony (don't worry if you don't know what that is!) when one of my sweet scouts sat down in her seat, shuddered with excitement and said to me, “I want to do that again!” It was SO sweet. But she wasn't finished, “Can we have a troop again next year? Will you be our leader?!”
And I realized it wasn't about me and how organized I was. It was about the girls having this experience, no matter how I measured up to the other troop in the room or to Pinterest.
Why You Matter, and How I Know That You Are Enough
I attended a Girl Scout Leader Expo in Illinois this summer where the keynote speaker was one of the women heading up the ACE Study. This is a study of children from every socio-economic background to examine the link between childhood trauma & abuse, and negative social & health outcomes.
I wasn't sure what on earth this had to do with being a girl scout leader, but I can tell you that as soon as I made the connection I was pretty much crying the whole time. I know. I'm a crier.
The study found that the more exposure to abuse and trauma a child has “the greater the risk of experiencing poor physical and mental health, and negative social consequences later in life.”
I thought, well I doubt any of my girls fit that description. We practically live in Pleasantville.
But then she started listing examples of abuse and trauma. Divorce, not enough food to eat, emotional abuse or neglect, a death in the family, family drug abuse or incarceration in the family, etc.
I don't know the past or future for any of my girls, but none of the things listed were things I could say they would never have to endure.
And these negative outcomes were all the things we are trying so hard to battle in the world. Hot button issues like suicide, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, but also health issues that we spend so much time, effort and money trying to eradicate.
It turns out that dealing with trauma is hard on your body and on your mind- especially as a child. If we can catch a child at the time of the trauma and help them deal with it in a healthy way, or even give them a positive, safe place, maybe we could help avoid some of those outcomes.
Teachers see the negative effects of these things in class all the time, but we can't ask them to stretch their time and resources to attend to every child, when they are also asked to teach them more content, faster than ever before.
As girl scout leaders, we are creating a positive environment for our Scouts. I'm not saying we are the only answer or that you need to have an intervention at every sign of a bad day. But we are a point of contact that could be a hopeful, healing place for a sweet little girl who might need it.
As a child of an amicable divorce, I didn't realize quite how important MomZimm was to me until that day at the expo when I heard about the ACE Study. She did crafts, taught me some fun skills, took me on field trips with my friends. It meant so much at that time in my life.
I don't think you need to experience trauma to get a lot out of girl scouts, but just imagine if you can be there for even one girl on a bad day, it could mean the world to her.
So if you are worried you are going to get it wrong, or wondering how you will possibly manage, I'm here to tell you that you are doing exactly what they need, no matter what, just by being there.
Your girls are lucky to have you as a role model in their life, just as you are lucky that they are letting you be a part of their lives. You never know when they will need your smile.
You matter. You are enough. That is the main thing I want you to know as you start your Leadership journey.
With that emotional message wrapped up, I don't want to just prop you up and leave you high and dry.
Although being a troop leader may seem overwhelming right now, you can simplify things if you just take one day to really sit down and plan it.
If this letter is enough for today, then take a breather and come back another day.
If you'd like a random collection of tips for making your Girl Scout year easier and for navigating your first year, head over and read these Tips for New Girl Scout Leaders. Be sure to ask if there is a question you'd like to have answered.
Either way, I'm glad you stopped by and I know that your girls are in store for a great year with you in the lead.