What to expect at a Girl Scouts Meeting

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Observations from a Slacker Mom

I'll be the first to admit it. I'm not a star PTA mom. I don't carpool to soccer games, my kids aren't on Little League, and while I try to be involved, I'm not hosting any after school tutoring clubs. My kids, though, thrive on afterschool activity. Girl Scouts is one constant in our lives. Although infamous for their cookies (available for a limited time only each year), the organization was founded as a girls group to help build strong female leaders. Parents either have fond memories of their own scouting days, or conjure up memories of a mud covered Shelley Long in Troop Beverly Hills, or the more recent George Lopez as Mr. Troop Mom.

When their kids come home begging to join Brownies (or Juniors, or Daisies, depending on their age and grade levels), parents start quaking. The questions they want to ask aren't the ones that they can easily ask. What sort of involvement are we talking here? How much is it really going to cost? And what am I getting myself into? If these questions are yours, you're in the right place.

The goal of Scout troops is to bolster children's self esteem. Girl scouts specifically is designed to empower girls to become leaders. While parent and volunteer involvement is vital to the running of any girl scout council, the girls take center stage and should be the ones really running the show. Or meeting. Girl Scouts is also a diverse group; they strive to include any girl who wants to be a part of scouting regardless of race, religion or economic status. While events and membership have some associated costs, scholarships are available for those who would otherwise not be able to join.

Money Matters

Girl Scouts should be affordable; since one of the core values of girl scouts is inclusion. There are membership fees to join, like any club. These are less than $20 a year. The membership fee is paid in full at the time of registration. Most troops who have already begun meeting will allow you to attend a meeting with your daughter before you officially sign up. While every girl wants a uniform, the real 'uniform' of girl scouts is the membership pin which is given to the girls when they take the girl scout pledge. As long as they wear the pin over their heart, they are in uniform.

That said, a lot of kids want to wear the whole uniform. A sash or vest (running between $6 and $20) is available; and should be completed with insignias denoting your troop number and council name (each cost between $1 and $2) The sash or vest will hold the incentives and recognitions earned by your scout. It may seem a little trying for adults, but the kids love the patches. Each incentive will bring a burst of pride, and some kids can tell you all about each and every patch, how it was earned and what they learned doing it. Patches and recognitions will be paid for by troop funds.

As a parent, you may also be asked to officially join girl scouts. The volunteer process costs nothing, but the membership dues apply if you become a member. Becoming a member does not automatically mean you need to attend every (or any) meeting.

The troop should be self funded. If your troop is brand new, and has no reserve from cookie sales, then you may be asked for a one time minimal donation to off set the costs of supplies. This is not required and your troop leader will be able to tell you what they are planning to do with the money.

There are some troops that save toward a larger expense and collect voluntary dues. This is voted on by the girls. (If it's not going to fit in your budget, encourage your daughter to vote against dues) The majority of a troop's funds come from the sale of girl scout cookies. Cookie sales are the girl scout's main fund raiser. There is a second fundraiser offered in the fall. If your troop is planning a really huge event, they can request permission to host their own third fund raiser. If your local troop seems big on fundraising, and you aren't, no one will think any less of you for asking if there are any other troops around. There usually are two or three within a school district.

Cookie Capers

Girl scout cookies have become synonymous with girl scouts. The sale is looked forward to, and dreaded, by most parents. You aren't alone if you hate cookie season. But think of it this way, the more cookie boxes your daughter sells, the less likely you are to have to pay for events she wants to attend.

Cookie sales, done right, also teach girls about business. While some people complain that the money for boxes doesn't seem to amount to much, it does add up. And girls learn that for each $4 box, the bakery receives about 30% for the cookies and labor to produce them. The remaining 70% is split between the council (to pay for overhead costs, shipping, storage, and training. Use of funds is decided by a volunteer board) and the troop itself to be used as decided by the girls.

Service Project: A fun activity that girls can do to make a difference in their community. Ideas include tending a garden, picking up trash in a local park or school, planting trees, helping in a soup kitchen, and collecting food for charities.

Service projects should be planned by the girls, but need to be moderated by the grown ups in the troop.

A Typical Meeting

So, what does a typical troop meeting look like? AKA...what exactly are you supposed to expect once you join up?

A typical girl scouts meeting will vary depending on the leader. Most begin with the girls reciting the Girl Scout promise, and maybe saying the pledge of allegiance. This is often followed by a song or two led by one of the girls, or a new song introduced by the leader.

The bulk of the meeting is usually centered on some sort of badge work. Girl scouts thrive on earning recognition, because we want kids to be proud of what they accomplish. We want them to recognize the worth of their skills. We also want to encourage them to try new, scary, things. Patches and incentive badges (petals for Daisies, Try Its for brownies, badges for juniors, Journeys for Cadettes and Seniors) are one way to bolster courage and self esteem. These recognitions can be sewn to a vest or sash that is worn to meetings and for girl scouting events.

The requirements for each recognition differ. Some require that girls complete various artistic experimentations, like learning how to make origami shapes, or creating friendship bracelets. Others offer suggestions for role playing scenarios to build self esteem and help girls to practice critical thinking and dealing with peer pressure. Some meetings are used to work on service projects, where girls spend time either creating projects to donate to a good cause or visit a facility that needs volunteer time. Some troops will pull weeds, or pick up trash, or serve dinner at a soup kitchen.

Meeting times are also used for planning. Girl scouts is about building strong leaders. Girls are encouraged to take part in planning their own future meetings, and choosing how to spend their troop funds. This is generally done through a leader led discussion and some voting.

Typically, there is a snack involved as well. Girls generally take turns providing a snack, which is passed out either at the beginning or the end of the meeting. A patrol of girls is in charge of cleaning up afterward.

Slacker Mom: A parent who is aware of their children's clubs and activities but doesn't take an active participatory role in maintaining or managing extracurriculars their children are involved in. One who listens, suggests, and supports but doesn't take on responsibility for a variety of reasons.

And What Does That Mean for Parents?

The real question parents seem to have when it comes to Girl Scouts is what is expected of them?

When you arrive at the first meeting, you will greet the leader and ask whatever questions you have. You'll receive paperwork to fill out. Unless you've filled out paperwork in advance, you'll stay and hang out in the background, filling in as an extra pair of hands when a girl says "I need a some help." If it's the troop's first meeting, you'll be invited to sit with the other parents for a short explanation of what they plan to do with the troop, and what your responsibilities will be.

Most parents are requested to provide a snack for one or two meetings; and to be a volunteer for one or two meetings. In order to volunteer, you will need to fulfill the requirements for the GS council. That just means fill out paper work and pass a finger print test (which is not nearly as painful as it sounds). It may be more work than you want to put into it, but really, don't you want them to screen the people in charge of your kids? I thought so. And it really sn't that much work. Just paper trails.

As a troop volunteer, on your assigned (or chosen) meeting day, you'll be a spare set of hands for the day's projects, or you'll be sitting in on a presentation. You might make sure a pair of girls makes it to the restroom and back safely, or you might oversee the girls as they put out or clean up after snack.

Parents may be asked to help supervise field trips. This doesn't mean you have to go camping. It means if you want to go to the art museum, you get to go for a discount and sit in on a behind the scenes tour with the troop, if you are willing to chaperone a small group.

There are opportunities for more responsibility. But if you're a self proclaimed slacker mom (around here, that's not a criticism) there's nothing to worry about. The bare minimum you can get away with is signing your kids in and out of each meeting, and giving up a few hours of your time over the course of the entire school year to make sure that the troop is adequately supervised during a meeting.

You might also consider the aforementioned field trips. They're much more fun than the ones you might supervise for school. And if you're ready to take on a little extra, they'd love some help with their fundraisers. They need a coordinator with enough space to store the stock and the ability to keep records and distribute things appropriately.

What to Expect After a Girl Scouts Meeting

When the girl scouts meeting is over, your child will come home brimming with energy. She'll be talking a mile a minute, recounting the events of the past hour. She may have an art project with her, or some 'homework' to complete (like checking out the phases of the moon, or looking up something online). Over time, you will notice her increased interest in the environment, and various service projects. You will notice an increase in self responsibility. She'll begin spontaneously cleaning up after herself, and remember to grab her own Brownie sash on the way out the door.

Girl Scouts quickly learn that their voices do matter, and that they can make a difference. Their voice is heard in their troop, and their troop's voice is heard in the council. The patches they earn give them immediate positive feedback. Their service projects help them feel motivated and empowered.

It's not for everyone. But if it's an organization that appeals to your child, the experience is priceless.

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