Metro DetroitOctober 09, 2013
Girl Scouts aims to attract more volunteers
By Robin Ruehlen
METRO DETROIT — Just as there is much more to Girl Scouts than selling cookies, there are many more opportunities for adults to share their time and talent with Scouts than grownups may realize.
Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan has put out the call for more adult volunteers — and not just in the traditional roles that parents might find difficult to fit into already-loaded schedules.
Denise Dalrymple, CEO of GSSEM said in her National Recruitment Week message that “volunteers are at the heart of everything we do in Girl Scouting.”
However, the shortage of adult volunteers in the GSSEM council region of Oakland, Macomb, Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair and Sanilac counties, and parts of Wayne, Monroe and Livingston counties, makes providing Girl Scouting experiences challenging.
“Today, parents and guardians work full-time and have other responsibilities that make being a troop leader seem impossible. Still, they want their daughters to have a meaningful Girl Scouting experience, and we need volunteers to help bring that to them,” she said.
“We understand that in order to engage adults and girls in the wonderful benefits Girl Scouts offers, we have to be flexible. Troops and troop leaders have not gone away, but there are more options so that every girl and every adult who wants to be involved in Girl Scouting has the opportunity to do so.”
GSSEM offers short-term, even one-day volunteer opportunities targeted toward professionals, college students and any other adult with limited availability to volunteer. Volunteers can facilitate an eight-week series with the curriculum provided by Girl Scouts, create their own one-day workshop focused on their area of expertise, or simply work registration at a large one-day event.
Macomb resident Jan Robertjohn is now in her 31st year of volunteering with the Girl Scouts — a record that began before her two daughters were old enough to walk and has continued long after their graduation from high school and from scouting.
“My experience has been very fulfilling. I really like the part of empowering girls, helping them learn leadership roles and seeing them make choices and decisions about everything from badges to trip destinations,” she said.
“I think it’s important for girls to experience a single-gender activity where they have the chance to show leadership and engage in activities in a safe place for them, to promote girl issues and address girl issues.”
And the volunteer opportunities are not limited to mothers — or even to parents.
“The general public can volunteer. We’re looking for alumni to re-engage, even if it is for just one event to support our activities in the community,” she said.
“One of the best things anyone can do is share a skill, a hobby or a passion that they have. Even dads can come in and do things that are of interest — working on cars or showing tools. If a mom likes to cook and bake, they can share those skills, as well.”
The majority of volunteer training and orientation can be done online, she said, “although we do advocate attending at least one face-to-face training because that’s where all the networking happens, where people are to support you as you become a leader of girls.”
Robertjohn noted that parents can support troops in myriad ways — from being an emergency backup, being a troop treasurer, creating a troop newsletter or even babysitting for younger children during a meeting.
“The more parent support, the better experience it is for the girls. Some of the best help I had was when another parent babysat my younger child while I was the troop leader and needed to run a meeting,” she said.
“Having a tagalong on a troop is difficult, and I knew she was in a secure place. A lot of times, leaders don’t know parents have those skills to share, so leaders need to ask and parents need to offer.”
But despite the decrease in volunteer numbers, Chief Program Officer Marla Benson the Scouts have created a second model known as the “community troop” that makes it possible for girls to join in even if there is not an active troop at their school.
“This is an opportunity for girls to participate on a multi-grade level, with girls from various schools in a specific region. What’s great is that it’s very flexible for the girls and for the adults,” she said.
Today’s Scouting involves two different types of volunteers — the traditional troop volunteers and program volunteers, who can participate as much or as little as they’d like, depending on their interests and time.
“They can work with us for one day or on a series, or they can lead the girls through a journey or badge workshop or participate in a camp,” she said.
“I think it’s really important for people to know that Girl Scouts continues in a very powerful way, and if there aren’t troops in your school, the community troop has been preferable. We had 3,000 girls participate in community troops last year, and we are really anticipating a great upsurge this year.”
For more information on joining, volunteering or donating to Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan, visit www.gssem.org or contact the GSSEM Help Desk at (800) 482-6734, option 5.