Monday Q&A: The future of Girl Scouts in Central California

jfarrow@modbee.comAugust 25, 2013 

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Jenna Houck, volunteer management specialist with the Girl Scouts of America, photographed at the Girl Scouts Heart of Central California office in Salida Tuesday August 13, 2013.

ANDY ALFARO — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

— Girl Scouts of the USA is all about building the leaders of tomorrow. But to do that, the century-old organization needs leaders to shape that next generation — today.

Jenna Houck, a Girl Scouts Heart of Central California council staffer, helps guide those adult troop leaders and other volunteers. She's been on the job as a volunteer-management specialist for a year and a half, but her Girl Scout experience dates back to when she was a Scout herself for "bits and pieces" of her youth because her family moved a lot. A Modesto native, she's been back living in the area for more than 20 years.

Houck is a mother of six — including four daughters — in a blended family. All her girls have been in Scouting at one time or another, and for 10 years before becoming a council employee, she led one daughter's troop. Now, she remains active as a troop parent while her council job has her overseeing seven "service units" as far away as Angels Camp.

Both as a volunteer and a staffer, Houck has seen troops as unique as the girls who are in them. There's a huge variety of interests from troop to troop. Some are outdoorsy, some are craft-minded, some are heavy into community service — some are all of the above. Especially with other troops, "we are girl-led ... it's really up to the girls on how they're running the program," she said. "As a troop, it very much depends on the group of girls you have. I had a troop leader tell me, 'My girls don't want to get dirty.' "

Finding troop leaders always is a challenge, Houck said. Many women don't think they have the time or talents to be leaders. And Girl Scouting is "so flexible and has so many options ... I think that can sometimes be intimidating to new leaders."

But the key requirement for being a troop leader isn't being able to build a lean-to or a snow shelter, or having a thumb green enough to lead a troop in establishing a community garden. The main thing is just a commitment to helping girls better themselves and their community.

"Eventually, we want leaders to be more of an advisory role as the girls grow and learn leadership skills," Houck said. "You'd be amazed what the older girls can do — they put on programs and events. That's our new theme this year: Girls can do anything."

She shares with The Bee some insights on Girl Scouting, leading a troop and other ways volunteers can help:

Q: Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts in 1912. What are a few of the key ways it's managed to stay relevant and popular among girls?

A: Engagement is what really creates a high-quality experience for girls. We ask girls about their interests and together we adapt each activity to make sure it's fun and a great learning experience.

Q: What makes Girl Scouts different than other extracurricular activities?

A: Girl Scout activities are designed to use three processes that make Girl Scouting unique. Girls lead the way, they learn by doing, and they learn as a team; and these three processes are used together to ensure quality and promote the fun and friendship that's so important to Girl Scouting.

Q: In the area covered by the Modesto Regional Office of the GSHCC, about how many girls participate in troops, and how many are on a waiting list to join?

A: Currently, we serve over 4,500 girls in the Modesto region. We always have girls on our placement list waiting for adult leadership; there are currently 230 girls, but that number will rise as the school year begins.

Q: I read in the council's annual report that it's rare for a volunteer to step forward to form a troop. Why do you think that is?

A: I think many adults worry they may not have the skills or the time that is needed to form a Girl Scout troop. The council's goal is to support our volunteers. We provide training and mentor opportunities for all of our leaders. We've found when the leader role is shared between two people, as well as active parent involvement, troops are more successful. Another benefit of being the troop leader is you can decide where and how often a troop meets to meet your schedule; it can be weekly or twice a month. It's your choice! Girl Scouts benefits girls and leaders. I've seen troop leaders build their confidence over the years and sometimes I wonder who has more fun, the girls or the leaders.

Q: What are the Girl Scouts looking for in troop leaders? What qualifications must they have?

A: We have a diverse group of wonderful troop leaders. Female and male volunteers, college students, parents and nonparents are all welcome to become troop leaders, as long as they meet some basic qualifications. Girl Scout troop leaders must enjoy working with children and adults, possess mature judgment and have some flexibility in their schedules. Troop leaders are also required to be at least 18 years old and pass a background check. Overall, we're looking for good role models who like to have fun!

Q: For someone who believes in Girl Scouts and wants to give time, but can't commit to being a troop leader, what other opportunities are there to volunteer?

A: There are many opportunities throughout the year where volunteers are called upon. We have the Girl Scout Cookie Mega Drop, where volunteers help distribute cookies to the troops. Volunteers can become a volunteer learning facilitator, and once trained, they teach enrichment classes to girls and other volunteers. There are also various administrative duties, such has filling registration packets, filling fall supply boxes and distributing fliers to schools. Some volunteers attend program events, or even speak at a series for girls. As you can see, if someone can't commit to being a troop leader, their time is still valued in other ways.

Q: How would you sum up the most important things Girl Scouting has to offer girls?

A: Girl Scouting is fun and it works. A recent study finds that women who were Girl Scouts as children have more positive life outcomes, such as a higher perception of self. Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place — and we live by that mission in everything we do.

For more information about Girl Scouts, and to register a girl or volunteer, visit the GSHCC web site: www.girlscoutshcc.org, or call the GSHCC Modesto Regional Office at (209) 545-3620.

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