When she was just five years old, Matilda (now six) was invited to her very first Girl Scout activity—an ice cream social at her pre-K through eighth-grade school in Morton Grove, Illinois. At first, she felt intimidated by being around so many girls of different ages, many much older than her. But before long, the girls welcomed Matilda with open arms, and she began to feel at home. That’s when she knew she wanted to be a Girl Scout, and as soon as she spoke up about it, her mother Melanie knew it was up to her to make it happen.
Having been a Girl Scout herself from kindergarten all the ways up to eighth grade, Melanie was no stranger to the magic of Girl Scouting, but she wanted Matilda to come to the decision on her own. This mom knows how important it is to let girls take the lead in their own lives and experiences! When she discovered her daughter’s desire to join Girl Scouts and saw that no one else at school was volunteering to become a troop leader, she took the lead, became a volunteer, and started Troop #452250 (Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana) with Matilda and five other girls.
“I never push my kids to do anything, but I do encourage them to try everything twice,” Melanie said. “The first time they might be a little shy, and the second time they will get a better representation of the experience when they are more comfortable.” Lucky for us, Matilda’s interest in Girl Scouts was sparked with her first event, launching a lifetime of leadership and adventure for both her and Melanie.
“I think she really likes the camaraderie. Because we’re at a K–8 school, it can be hard to make friends, but with Girl Scouts it’s so much easier to build community. She’s made some really great friends,” Melanie said. “She’s also learned a lot about leadership and taking initiative. If she sees something that isn’t right, she speaks up, and she understands the importance of including people.”
Through Girl Scouting, Matilda has become less shy and more proactive about interacting with others, especially through selling Girl Scout Cookies. “She’s just a really kind person, but I feel like Girl Scouts has made her unafraid to show that kindness,” Melanie said. “She’s become more generous and more giving than ever since she joined.”
Beyond her own daughter, Melanie sees how Girl Scouting has affected all the girls in her troop. “These girls are all amazing. We raised almost $2,000 in cookie money this year, and they literally want to give every penny to the children’s hospital here in town,” she said. “They just raised $1,000 for the American Lung Association, too. All 18 girls in my troop are ready to take action at all times, and they’re just so sweet and so special.”
While Matilda was forming her community and unleashing her inner leader with her fellow Girl Scouts, Melanie found a community of her own. “When I got roped into being a leader, I realized I was pregnant two weeks later with my third, but the other leaders at school gave me a ton of support,” Melanie said. “This is my second year leading the troop, and I have a co-leader now—a friend of mine whose daughter also joined the troop. She helps me with a lot of the administrative stuff and running around, so that’s been great. I also have a cookie mom who helps out a lot. I might be the leader, but I couldn’t do any of it without this awesome team.”
For Melanie, seeing the outcomes of Girl Scouting has been the best part of being a troop leader and what helps her deal with the challenges that come along with this big, important job. A huge part of being a successful troop leader is planning, something Melanie feels is definitely not her strong suit, but an area that Girl Scouting has really helped her grow and improve in—go, Melanie!
“I do all this planning, and I hate it,” she shared with a laugh, “but then the girls have so much fun and they tell me over and over again how much they love it, and their moms come and tell me, too. I always think I’m not doing a good job, but then I get the feedback and I feel great just hearing that other people’s kids are benefiting, too. It’s a lot of work, but it’s very gratifying. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Melanie thinks the girls benefit most from learning so much about community involvement and actually getting out into the community to create change. “Starting young is important because that’s when the change happens,” she said. “If you take a five-year-old to clean a park, she remembers that, and she will want to protect her community and her environment in the future.”
Matilda added, “My favorite part of Girl Scouting is learning about all the ways we can help people.” Now that’s what we call a leader!
Girl Scouting has even played a key role in how this unstoppable mom and daughter team interact and communicate with each other. “I think it has brought us a lot closer,” Melanie mused. “I think being in Girl Scouts, and especially being her leader, has really encouraged her to communicate better. I always ask her opinion on activities. Between talking with her about what we’re doing, we’ll also talk about lessons we learn at our troop meetings and how we can apply those same lessons at school and in her social circles. I think she’s really become more comfortable sharing with me, and it’s so cool.”
If you’re a parent and thinking about signing your girl up for Girl Scouts but aren’t sure, Melanie suggests talking with your girl to gauge her interest.
“Talk to your child. Listen to what she has to say. I think that’s what Girl Scouts is about—listening to our girls. Ask them what they want to do. They are very smart and have a lot to say.”
Melanie, you really get us!
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