I know what you are thinking:” Yes Shawna, that is exactly who Girl Scouts is for. It is for the girls, …. duh!”. In the past eleven years, I have been a volunteer mom, a co-leader, a troop leader and a committee member with ten different troops, working with Daisies up through Ambassadors, in two different states and now with Stuttgart Girl Scouts, in Germany. I promise you that I am not bragging about my GS involvement. Many women and men have done just as much and more than I have, in their Adult Girl Scout volunteering careers. But I am here to tell you that Girl Scouts of the USA isn’t just for the girls…it is for us adults, too.
There are two major benefits to being an adult volunteer for Girls Scouts. The first is watching the girls be free to be themselves with other Girl Scouts, and to not worry about being judged and bullied. Seeing those moments when a shy girl or angsty girl feels safe in her troop environment to let her guard down and smile and laugh with her Girl Scout sisters. Watching the girls try new things that they never thought they would or could do. Sometimes they fail and sometimes they succeed. Or, maybe a girl finds another Girl Scout that she trusts enough to tell her worries and fears to. As parents and adults who care about these girls, we want them to make connections to others, grow academically and emotionally, learn new skills and learn to allow themselves to become the amazing women that they can be. Seeing those moments when they forget about whatever is bothering them and they just cut loose and have fun. Those moments are why I have been involved with Girl Scouts for so long. These moments don’t happen to every girl at every troop meeting, but they are there. These moments are treasures that the girls will never forget and I feel privileged to have helped facilitate those moments. These special moments have become my treasures, too.
I could go on and on about the girls and about how awesome they are. But what I really want to talk about is the connections and special moments that I have made with the other women (and a few men), I have met while volunteering with Girls Scouts. I have met and worked with some of the most interesting, fun, smart, creative, skilled and passionate people that I have met in any other walk of my life. Now, I have met a lot of people in my 45 years of life, as a military spouse and HR professional, in my pre-Stuttgart life. But, working with these ladies has enriched my life so much in the past few years that my heart smiles every time I think of them. I have hiked in the Alps, camped in the cold with thousands of other scouts from around Europe, sang karaoke to Abba songs in Sweden, stayed in a few awesome hostels, stayed in one horrible hostel, slept in a treehouse, been to two WAGGGS World Centers, rode a slide in a salt mine, ridden a boat on the Danube River, made s’more and sang Girl Scouts songs and more. I have worked with adult Girl Scouts from Stuttgart, Berlin, Spangdahlem, Grafenwoehr, and scouts from Germany, the US, The Netherlands, and Great Britain. I realized about two years ago that being a Girl Scout leader wasn’t just for the girls, but it was for me, too. At first, I felt selfish in this realization, but soon decided that I wasn’t selfish at all. The girls have always been my first priority, but the connections and friends that I have made while working with Girl Scouts are my BONUS benefit. With many of my special adult GS connections, I have laughed and cried. I have encouraged others and they have cheered me on. I have made really good friendships with nurses, doctors, scientists, publicists, teachers, writers, and I don’t even know what else. These are people that I love to spend time with; to travel with. When they move away, I keep in touch with them. I even have a couple past Girl Scouts and their moms write to me, occasionally.
These special bonds that I have created with the girls and especially the other volunteer adults, are the best part of being a Girl Scout volunteer. I encourage others to volunteer with their local Girl Scouts. There are always opportunities to work with troops, or at the committee level. You can also volunteer by teaching the girls a new skill. What are your passions? Whatever they are, there are probably girls and leaders who would love for you to teach those skills to them. Now, I’m going to be honest: it isn’t always easy. I have found that the more you give, the more you get. Showing up to weekly troop meetings may not be enough to achieve the types of experiences and bonds that I have had. Maybe it is. But, try taking a hike at a barfusspark. I can attest to the fact that you will bond with anyone that you walk barefoot through pine cones and beds of glass with. Go to a museum and look at beautiful art. Teach the girls how to build a bonfire, then make and eat some banana-boats. Whichever path you choose as a Girl Scout volunteer, put yourself out there and get involved. I promise you will see the benefits that I mentioned and you will create life long bonds with other like and unlike yourself. Being a Girl Scout volunteer might be one of the best parts of me: not for what I have done for others, but for what they have done for me. I want everyone to experience joy and true friendships like I have experienced, by working with the Girl Scouts of the USA.
To all of the special people that I have gotten to know while working with Girl Scouts, especially here in Stuttgart GS: Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the stars in the sky. The girls are why I started volunteering, but you are my Bonus benefits.
2019 Stuttgart C.A.R.E. Fair
Senior Cadette Pathways # 534 Journey to the Land of the Rising Sun
Story and photos by: Ursula Werneri, Troop Leaders, OCMT Member
2 years of planning, research, coming up with ideas, discarding ideas, picking activities to do and sights to visit, finetuning, budgeting, fundraising and more fundraising, coming to agreements, implementing, reaching out to a Japanese sister troop to connect and meet with, getting a first-hand introduction into Japanese culture from a fellow Girl Scout who has lived in Japan, learning some basic Japanese phrases, finding thoughtful gifts for our Japanese host families and fellow Girl Scouts and their leaders, preparing activities for a day of fun and learning 2 years seems to be a long time, but it really was not. This trip was more than a ‘pack your bags and leaving on a jet plane’…it was an amazing learning experience for the girls, a chance to deal with and overcome obstacles along the way, reaching limits and figuring out comfort zones in a country far away from home.
The purpose of the trip was cultural experience and meeting up with Japanese Girl Scouts, which took us to Kyoto.
Metropolitan Government Building with a special exhibit about the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. We learned about the Olympic flag, locations that hosted Olympic Games, new sports added to the 2020 Olympics – one of them is skateboarding - , the mascots, with which we could take pictures, could touch them but were not allowed to move them…the friendly Japanese Lady who gave us the outfits for our little Photo shoot told us so with a friendly but firm expression and of course a smile. Which we encountered a lot in Japan.
The building also houses the Observation deck on the 45th floor from where we had wonderful view over Tokyo….and were told the location of Mt. Fuji…(which we couldn’t see).
Epson Team Lab Borderless, which is a one of a kind digital Art Museum. It was worth the wait to get in and long lines for some of its attractions. One of the highlights were the drawings of animals everyone could make and turn in and have them digitalized and brought to life! The museum is located in Odaiba where the home of the other Statue of Liberty is and also the famous Rainbow Bridge.
Ghibli Museum,- Ghibli is an animation film studio best known for its anime feature films. One can only take pictures outside of the museum.
Various shopping streets, with anything your heart desires, yummy food (look at the huge and colorful cotton candy the lady has in her hand) and interesting people of all ages
Imperial Palace, where you can find tranquility in a hustling and bustling city and Japanese Ladies dressed in Kimonos watching Koi carps in the pond.
The Kakimori かきもり stationary store transports you back into a time without email. Just looking at the beautiful assortment of color coordinated paper, the high quality writing utensils make you forget any electronic way of communication. You can create your own notebook, you pick the type and color or paper, the cover you think matches best, the type of binding – spiral or other, the clasp, snap, string, …whatever your heart desires and your wallet can afford. Amazing how much time we spent in there. Everyone walked out with their very own individual journal….and a smile.
Tokyo Tower, which looks like the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo Skytree , Godzilla Head, the Kitkat store, where you could design your personalized KitKat and the purchases were placed into a bag with cooling elements so the chocolate stays cool, a cute little store called ‘Alice on Wednesday’, where you were greeted by the grin of the Cheshire cat, could see what was under the mushroom and much more. We learned to navigate the Tokyo subway system, to order food at various places
The best and most authentic food we had at this little mom and pop restaurant where we could figure out the prices but had no idea what was on the menu and what the different colors meant, we could see what other customers were ordering and gestured that we wanted the same. The owners were super friendly and fed us well.
We covered the distance between Tokyo and Kyoto by Shinkansen – another cultural experience – buying the tickets, figuring out where the train left, how to read the ticket, that we actually needed two tickets to get into the section where the Shinkansen left, and you needed to put them into the machine in a certain order…if you did not….. the gates didn’t open..but there was always a friendly Japanese assistant available who helped you out …with a smile. On the train a lady came by with a trolley offering all sorts of Japanese delicacies for purchase.
We never saw Mt. Fuji, knew however where we could have seen it best had it been a clear day. When we arrived in Kyoto our Japanese Girl Scout leader met us at the train station, we tall Westerners were not hard to spot. She took us to our respective host families who treated us very well, shared their culture with us, for better understanding electronic devices came in very handy, despite some funny translations into English…No idea what the program did translating into Japanese.
Day 2 in Kyoto was organized by our new friends.
We stayed in a temple, which is their Scout Center.
They taught us how to put on a Kimono and tie it properly,
They took us sightseeing, to the shopping district where local delicacies were prepared and sold and could be sampled. We visited the Manga museum and shopped for dinner which we prepared together. Despite the language barrier and our lack of Japanese we developed a wonderful relationship with our Japanese sister Scouts.
On Day 3 we were woken up by drums and attended a Buddhist service before we met up with more Japanese Girl Scouts and also some USA Girl Scouts Overseas who were our translators, for a morning of fun and learning. As an ice breaker we made friendship bracelets. They had asked us to teach them about Germany. We covered language, culture and political system, food (of course) and general knowledge, had typical German treats such as marshmallow kisses and Gummibears as treats.
Then we played games and sang songs…same tune just different languages, Sooooooo much fun…no one really wanted to leave after we did the friendship circle and sang ‘Make new friends in many languages and as a round, the parents were patiently waiting for their girls to say another and another and a last goodbye…
On our bucket list was spending the night in a capsule hotel. And that’s what we did on our own in Kyoto. Once you are asleep it doesn’t matter how tiny the thing is. It deserves its name…you sleep in a compartment the size of a box, you leave your suitcase in the hallway, you are not allowed to talk once you are in the capsule area, since there are no doors but only blinds. The bathrooms and showers however are pretty amazing, all sorts of lotions, and potions, combs, q tips, even fancy blow dryers and fluffy towels.
We explored the old part of Kyoto on our own, Kimono Forest, Bamboo Garden, Golden Pavilion, the Tenryu-ji Zen Temple, a UNESCO world heritage site, where two of the girls bridged from Girl Scout Cadettes to Girl Scout Seniors and the Senior Girl Scout received her membership star.