As part of our series about different types of youth work, this week we have an interview with Shae Pepper who, in addition to being a Prevention Training Specialist, is also a Girl Scout Troop Leader.
1. What type of youth work do you do?
I’m a volunteer Girl Scout Troop Leader.
2. What do you do in an average week?
My troops aren’t like your ‘typical’ or ‘traditional’ Girl Scout Troops. I lead three different troops in the public housing (low-income government subsidized) areas in my city.
While a traditional troop has 4-10 girls, I have 12-25 depending on the troop location and week. My girls range in age from 5-15, so I have all the levels of Girl Scouts in each troop – Daisies, Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes and Seniors (we don’t have any Ambassadors right now who are Juniors/Seniors in High School).
We meet 3-4 times per month all year round. While many troops take a break during the summer to go on vacation or camp, we continue our program as the majority of my Girl Scouts won’t be doing anything special during their summer holidays.
Some things that we do are your usual Girl Scout activities – we say The Promise and The Law at the start and we have a Friendship Circle at the end. We just finished selling Girl Scout Cookies and we work towards badges.
Badges that my girls have worked towards and earned include:
- Painting and Drawing – for making cards, signs and a paper sisterhood quilt
- Athletic – for learning the basics of soccer
- Girl Scout Way – for learning all the basics of being a Girl Scout, particularly how to be a sister to every Girl Scout
- Naturalist (not to be confused with naturist!) – the girls learned about bugs, trees and flowers
- Friendship Bracelets – we made these in various patterns and swapped with one another
- Money Manager – after learning about budgeting during cookie sales
- Special Extra Badges – for learning about local emergency services, doing community service, having excellent attendance and other fun and educational activities
We plan trips, but due to the troop sizes and economic status of most of the families, we don’t do as many as a traditional troop might. Last year we went to a local amusement park and a local water park. This year we’re hoping to do some camping and maybe return to the water park as that was the highlight of last year.
3. How long have you been leading Girl Scout troops?
I’ve been a troop leader for just over a year.
4. What other types of youth work have you done previously?
Prevention programs, school-inclusion programs, youth participation programs, social-inclusion/social-enterprise programs, faith-based youth ministry, youth re-entry program design and project-based education programs.
5. What age range do you work with?
I work with girls and young women who are between the ages of 5-17.
6. What’s unique about being a Girl Scout troop leader??
I’m able to provide the Girl Scout Leadership Experience for approximately 60 girls who otherwise wouldn’t have access to Girl Scouts based on the area that they live in and the cost associated with traditional troops.
7. What are some of the good things about Girl Scout troop leadership?
Girl Scouts is a recognized program, so everyone knows when we’re doing activities in the community centers or out in the neighborhood what kinds of activities and *hopefully* behavior they can expect. It’s providing learning experiences that these girls might not have had the opportunity to experience otherwise, like camping or small business management through cookie sales.
It’s also exposing them to new people and places. Some of the girls had never left our city before going to the water park in the next town. They’re constantly learning and practicing ‘how to be a sister to every Girl Scout’, no matter who she is or how different she may be from themselves.
My favorite thing is obviously spending time with the girls. I enjoy doing activities with them – we recently recorded Girl Scout Harlem Shake videos at each troop. I love seeing them and watching them learn and explore new things. I LOVE seeing how proud they are of their badges and sashes. And I enjoy all the artwork I get to hang up in my office.
8. What are some of the challenges of it?
There are a lot of girls. I mean. a. lot. of. girls. for the types of activities we do and want to do in the future. But given a choice between restricting troop numbers to a more traditional size or getting creative with my activities and funds, I’ll choose creativity every time. I want every girl that wants to be in our troops to join in.
Behavior can be a challenge. Besides working with so many girls, not all of them have a stable home life with parents who are providing the necessary boundaries, but I’ve seen tremendous change in those behaviors over the last year. Girls who have been consistently coming know the expectations at troop and help encourage others to follow the standards set out in the Girl Scout Law.
I have a really hard time getting volunteers. I have a committed and passionate few, two of whom are Girl Scout moms which is awesome (the third of which is my own mom – who completely rocks the Girl Scout Troop Leader role by the way!), but that’s it. I had more but they’ve gone by the wayside or come sporadically. One of the biggest barriers is the locations the troops take place in – they’re in communities where many volunteers are not comfortable travelling to.
There can be a lot of paperwork to keep track of, particularly at cookie time. I also want to make sure my girls can earn as many badges as possible, so they’re receiving rewards that motivate them to work hard and learn new things. I therefore keep an extensive spreadsheet of their attendance and which badges they’ve earned which amounts to a lot of data entry each week. I’ve recently hired my oldest Girl Scout to be my assistant in this area – it provides skills for her to learn and takes some of the pressure off of me each week.
9. Why are you passionate about this type of youth work?
Everyone says to me, ‘you must love Girl Scouts’ and I say ‘No. I love my Girl Scouts but I don’t love scouting.’
Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great program for the right moms and girls. But there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being a troop leader and since my troops are larger and less traditional, we sometimes have a hard time fitting in the model provided by the Girl Scouts which can be frustrating.
I love seeing the girls learn new things and I love their funny stories and silly comments…. like this one:
(At our last cookie sale this Saturday it looked like we were going to have A LOT of cookies left)
Ms. Shae: Looks like I might have a lot of Tagalongs to eat Mr. Stephen
Brownie: No – if we have leftovers we can just take them into the woods and let the bears eat them
Ms. Shae: I’m not giving perfectly good cookies to bears
Junior: Besides, it says you you have to recycleable the boxes – it’s not good for nature
Definitely the girls and their development into young ladies is what I’m most passionate about.
10. What would you recommend for someone wanting to become a Girl Scout troop leader?
Volunteer with a troop first and definitely try to be around for cookie time which can be hectic before you strike out on your own as a troop leader. The Girl Scouts also have great employment opportunities throughout the year and at their summer camp activities, which might be a great way to work full time for a historic girl-focused organization.
Note: Girl Scouts is an international organization so even if you’re not based in the US and reading this post, there is a chance that Girl Scouts is still in your country.
11. Is there any special training or qualifications required?
You just need to do the required Girl Scout training and pass a background check.
12. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
It’s a lot of fun working with the girls. Seeing them earn badges is really rewarding and seriously – who would want to miss this?
Shae Pepper has been a Professional Youth Worker for seven years and a Volunteer Youth Worker for eight years. She has a Master’s in Youth Work and Community Development from DeMontfort University in Leicester, England. Shae has provided training for youth workers in England, the USA and Rwanda and has worked with young people aged 8-21 in England, Rwanda, the USA and Thailand.
Please feel free to use the comments below if you have any questions about Girl Scouts. If you’re also a Girl Scout Troop Leader, we’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments too.
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