Twenty local Girl Scouts attended a meet-and-greet event at Rotary Park on Oct. 6. Girls of different ages enjoyed getting to know one another, playing volleyball and an “ice-breaker” bingo game. Ages ranged from kindergarten to eighth grade.
“One thing we saw was how much those littler girls loved hanging out with the big girls. That’s what we want to do more often,” said Melodie McCandless, who has been the Service Unit Manager for the Girl Scout organization in the Moab area for seven years.
There are three Girl Scout troops in Moab: the largest, with 17 members, includes kids from kindergarten-age through third grade. Six girls are in the third through sixth grade troop, and six are in the eighth grade troop, known as “Cadettes.” More kids have expressed interest, but McCandless said the organization needs more supervisors to accommodate more kids.
“The biggest challenge right now is adult volunteers,” said McCandless. “A lot of girls are interested but we don’t have any place to put them.”
Growth through Girl Scouts
Through Girl Scouts, local Moab girls have learned a variety of skills and found ways to contribute to their community. Before the coronavirus pandemic tightened safety restrictions, troops would visit the Canyonlands Care Center, making crafts and baked goods with and for the residents.
“The care center residents love to be around children, it is absolutely therapeutic for them,” said Jillian Fryer, Director of Nursing for Canyonlands Care Center.
McCandless recalled another Girl Scout project from a couple of years ago. Her troop was learning about stereotypes, and they heard presentations from local community members like Dr. Kathy Williams, who practices medicine through Moab Regional Hospital, about overcoming barriers and stereotypes in their careers. The girls decided to craft a play illustrating how stereotypes can be harmful and how to overcome them; they performed it for the younger Girl Scout troops.
There are also Girl Scout activities available online through the organization’s Utah webpage, gsutah.org. The coronavirus pandemic prompted the organization to expand remote participation options. Even kids who aren’t Girl Scout members can participate. For about $10 plus shipping, families can order a “Badge in a Box,” and receive a package of activities and instructions for girls to complete at home. There are also clubs, lessons and programs online, including an astronomy club, leadership workshops, and a Halloween-themed “Spooky Science” program. Prices for participation vary, from free to about $30. Kids can also virtually attend tours of places like the aquarium and the Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City.
However, McCandless said she’s observed that “the girls in Moab really want to be hands-on.” They want to be outdoors learning about nature, or learning skills like cooking or sewing in person. COVID-19 has made that difficult; Girl Scouts are still required to wear masks when meeting indoors.
In the spirit of being hands-on and active, the leader for the youngest Moab Girl Scout troop is planning a camping trip for her group. The Girl Scout organization insurance policy covers members on Girl Scout trips. McCandless said even if girls don’t want to attend regular Girl Scout meetings, it’s worth signing up with the organization to be able to participate in things like camping trips, and be covered by the group’s insurance.
There are also opportunities for travel through the Girl Scout organization. Girls from anywhere in the state can attend sleep-away camps, from two-day trips to week-long camps, and stay in tents, cabins, or lodges and participate in outdoor activities like hiking and canoeing.
McCandless’s daughter, who is in the Cadette group, has saved up $4,000 to participate in a Girl Scout trip to the Galapagos Islands in the summer of 2022. She’ll join other Girl Scouts and chaperones on a ten-day trip. McCandless decided not to go, to give her daughter the opportunity for independence.
“I’m really excited for them to go,” said McCandless. “She can build some relationships and some friends with other girls across the state, and maybe she’ll go to college with or play volleyball with some of those girls.”
It costs $25 to be a leader, volunteer or Girl Scout, and girls can enroll any time. The fee covers administrative costs. Currently, McCandless said, the Girl Scout organization is waiving the sign-up fee for girls, in light of widespread hardships caused by COVID-19. For kids, if the cost is prohibitive, troops can cover the sign-up fee from their “cookie funds,” money earned from selling famous Girl Scout cookies every year. For a new scout, there may be other costs for a sash and merit badges, the embroidered patches that represent completed activities; those also may be covered by the troop’s funds or the organization if needed. Once a troop gets started, it can usually sustain itself from funds raised through cookie sales.
The most challenging limitation right now, McCandless said, is the ratio of kids to adult supervisors. With the youngest girls in such a large group and across such a broad age range, for example, it’s difficult to lead activities like teaching a sewing class. The third graders need a different level of activity and guidance than the kindergarteners. The leader of that troop has a rotating set of volunteers who help, but no full-time assistant, a role that would bring stability to the large troop. Men can volunteer as well as women; McCandless said some girls’ fathers help out throughout the scout year.
McCandless was pleased to meet a woman at the Oct. 6 event who has been involved with the Girl Scouts for 40 years and is interested in volunteering.
“We really do need more volunteers,” said McCandless. “I think there would be a lot more girls interested in Girl Scouts.”
To volunteer, adults must pass a background check and complete trainings through the Utah Girls Scouts website.
“They give you a lot of resources; they also give you a lot of leeway to do what you want to do,” said McCandless. “Girl Scouts is kind of what you want to make it.”
She explained that the Girl Scout organization is meant to be “girl-led.” For younger girls, that may mean giving a troop two options to choose from for an activity or trip or decision; for older girls, they can choose their own direction and activities. For example, McCandless said last year her troop wanted to help the local Humane Society and the animal rescue nonprofit Underdog. They generated the idea themselves and came up with a plan. McCandless said she was just there to facilitate.
“You help the girls make their plan, if they need to raise money you help them figure out how to raise money, and figure out the decision-making steps to get to where we want to be.”
Volunteers with the Girl Scouts can scale their commitment, scheduling troop meetings as often as once a week or as little as once a month. Older Girl Scouts, McCandless noted, are more ready to engage with the organization independently, as well as busy with other activities like clubs and sports, and are happy to meet less frequently. She said she holds one hour-long meeting a week for her troop of eighth-graders. Along with the preparation involved, she said it adds up to about 10 hours a month of time committed to the troop. Girl Scout activities are usually suspended during the summer.
Community members can also volunteer to share a skill or experience with a Girl Scout troop on a one-time basis. For example, a local Emergency Medical Services crew gave a tour of an ambulance for a troop that was working on a first aid badge. Or, volunteers may serve in administrative or recruitment capacities, rather than working directly with kids. Volunteering with Girl Scouts can be a great resume builder, McCandless noted, especially for high school students preparing college applications.