As a woman who is 50 years young, I can still recall fond memories of my days scouting as a young girl. From running around Camp Hawthorne Ridge in Pennsylvania, to feeling like a kid again when I see the camp's Thompson Hall, those memories are forever engrained in me. I can't imagine being a kid, and not being a Girl Scout! Now, as a Girl Scout volunteer and troop leader, I know the impact I can make on a young group of girls -- but I can't do it alone. That's where YOU come in.
My time in Girl Scouts has not come without its challenges. As a young adult, I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, an inherited connective tissue disorder. After 36 surgeries, I rely on a wheelchair -- but this has never stopped me. I draw strength from my situation to help others, especially my Girl Scouts. A lot of girls in my troop have various disabilities, from cerebral palsy to Asperger syndrome, but I'm in a position to show it doesn't define or inhibit them. And that's what being a Girl Scout leader means.
Our Brownie motto is simply, "Try It," and can be seen through every aspect of scouting. Anyone can sit back and say they cannot do something. It is easy to say you can't, but it is not because you haven't tried. A good volunteer is determined, and will always try. When we try and put forth our best effort, we give our kids a chance to see that we will support them at every level of a new experience, as long as they just try it. Some are natural go-getters, while others are more timid and nervous to try, as well as those who are somewhere in between. No matter what, when they see we support each brave step for each unique individual, they become that much more confident. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing that little Brownie try, succeed, and then get to the next level of Girl Scouts.
The love I have for the girls' awe and wonder at trying new things keeps me trudging along. Sure, I have faced my challenges, but I prefer to look at my life not as having a disability, but having a "dis"-ease that affects my "ability" to do something. When the girls see that I struggle to do things because my hands are so weak and twisted with scars, they are willing to try even if they also struggle. When they see me rolling along on my electric wheelchair, they will try to keep walking that tiring last few steps with their bags in tow. On good days, they may even see me lowered into the pool to have a swim break, which gets them excited. So many have said, "I didn't know you could get out of your chair!" It all goes both ways, as I learn as much from them as they do from me.
I started Girl Scouts as a Brownie, the lessons we learned are forever engrained in us through the Girl Scout Promise and Law -- remembering to help people at all times, and trying to make the world a better place. My 20-year career as a Speech Language Pathologist was derailed by surgery after surgery; it would have been easy to say, "I can't." Girl Scouts has instilled in me the will to keep living, and offered me the chance to do it through volunteering. People can get trapped by what they fear they are unable to do. This is their downfall, because we don't know if we don't try. Our troop is a poster child for a hodgepodge of girls and leaders who have varying levels of abilities. Instead of excluding, we challenge ourselves to find a way to include everyone. Everyone steps up to the challenge and makes it all work out.
Volunteering for Girl Scouts is what keeps the spirit of founder Juliette Gordon Low alive today. If we sit back too many times waiting for someone else to step up and volunteer, it might be too late and a young girl could miss out on all the wonderful things that come with being a Girl Scout. So I say "roll" up and be that difference. I received that chance growing up because of volunteer leaders and camp helpers who ensured everyone was given a chance. What these wonderful ladies gave me continues to evolve as I give back to the girls. It comes back to me quadruple-fold in their smiles, hugs and acceptance. So shine on and be that difference!
To learn more about volunteering, visit www.girlscouts.org/volunteer.