I couldn’t write a book about my life without including a chapter on Girl Scouting. Although I only got be a Girl Scout for a very short amount of time as a GIRL, I became involved as an adult and remain a Lifetime Member at this time.
I was born in Iowa and was a Brownie for just a few weeks. I was about seven, and I really liked the idea of doing a good deed every day. One time I tried to mop the living room floor for my Mother. She was worried I was going to short out the lamps and the telephone because of the amount of water I was using. After the near flooding, I was put on sweeping duty instead.
The first time we were asked to bring in money for something, my Mother made me leave the troop because we were too poor to afford whatever the fee was. She was embarrassed and didn’t want to ask for any special considerations. She just told me I could no longer go to the troop meetings. I was so disappointed, but I never forgot those special times in my troop.
As an adult, I lived in Indiana. In 1974, our home was totally destroyed by a tornado. My husband worked for GMAC and had previously put in for a transfer to Florida. Once his Manager saw what was left of our home, and the devastation in the area, the transfer request was granted, and we were in Florida within a week. We moved to Largo, Florida and our daughter, Brenda was invited to join a Brownie troop. I was asked to register as an adult and serve on the Troop Committee. I helped the leaders with whatever they needed, so I started learning what Girl Scouting was all about.
The next year, my husband was transferred to Lee County. We moved to Cape Coral and my daughter was now in the third grade and wanted to stay in Girl Scouts. This time there were no troop openings, just a lot of girls without a leader. Since I had a good experience from helping the leaders in my daughter’s first troop, I agreed to be a troop leader and took 21 girls. Our girls stayed together as a group for six years, through Juniors and two years of Cadettes. If we lost girls, we took more girls. The troop averaged 18 to 21 girls. It was a great size to use the Patrol System. I was not as experienced as some leaders, so I took every training available and attended all of the Neighborhood meetings. Our meetings nearly always had a bit of training or program. We learned new songs, a closing ceremony, or an inexpensive craft. The meetings were always very worthwhile.
Our Neighborhood was always very active and participated in Thinking Day programs and Juliette Gordon Low birthday celebrations. The girls were able to be involved with girls from other troops.
As I learned and developed confidence, I began planning and being in charge of some of our Neighborhood and Council activities. Helen Christenson was our Field Executive, and was employed by the Council. I had planned a 3 County Water Sports event for 100 girls, with the first part being a swim meet at a large school pool. She dropped by to see how things were going. She took me aside and gave me a wonderful compliment. I will never forget what she said to me. She said, “Betty, with your leadership and organizational skills, you could run a major hospital or a community”.
Not long after the swimming event, Helen asked to meet with me. She asked about my educational background. Out of five children, I was the only one to graduate from High School. She encouraged me to go to our Community College to take some classes. She shared with me that it took her several years to get her degree because she could only go part-time while she was raising her family. She inspired me to try something new, and my husband was so supportive. They are the two most influential people in my life.
I started classes when I was in my mid 30’s. After 10 years of attending classes, mostly at night, I graduated from the University of South Florida with a Master’s Degree in Counselor Education. I really believe that Girl Scouting gave me the opportunity to recognize skills I had and to learn new ones. Helen was a wonderful inspiration to me and remained one of my lifetime friends.
The wonderful people I met through Girl Scouting and the belief in the program helped me to stay on as an adult volunteer even without a troop of girls. I planned several Council wide events for girls. Later, I became a Trainer for Adult Development courses. In 1988, I was chosen to attend Edith Macy Training Center to be a member of the first team in our Council for the new Train the Trainer course. We were then responsible for designing and delivering the very first Train the Trainer courses in Gulfcoast Girl Scout Council. I also reactivated the TOPS weekends for Cadette Girl Scouts. They were weekends designed for girls to complete all or most of an Interest Project. I did workshops on career development and the new Silver and Gold Awards. I worked with another volunteer and designed a Disability Awareness patch and program. A few years later, our national organization came out with an official patch.
During my time as a council volunteer, I had many opportunities to learn and travel. For the 75th G. S. Anniversary, Lynda Young and I took a group of girls to Washington D.C. for the special Promise Circle headed by Nancy Reagan, our First Lady at that time. The girls had such a memorable experience. I attended several National Conventions and even participated in a leadership conference at Our Cabana in Mexico.
In 1996, my husband was transferred back to the Tampa area. By this time, My daughter had married and had a Brownie age daughter. The opportunity was presented again. There were a lot of girls who wanted to be Brownies, but there were no leaders to form troops. My daughter and I became troop leaders for the girls and worked with the troop two years in Brownies and three years as Juniors. Sports eventually caused a conflict, just as it had done with her Mother, so Molly had a decision to make, and she decided to give up Girl Scouts, so she could participate in sports. I think it was softball that she wanted to play.
After I completed my educational program, I worked in the school system for seventeen years. I often thought that my Girl Scout experiences had prepared me almost as much as my University course work for my chosen vocation. For the last six years of my educational career, I worked at two elementary schools. One of my responsibilities was to give a character education lesson in every classroom monthly. I could actually use Girl Scout program ideas, as well as the school curriculum to deliver the classroom lessons. When I was still working down in the Gulfcoast G. S. Council, I was presented with a Lifetime Membership, so I no longer register every year.
I am now in my 70’s and retired. I have not been very active in recent years, but I remain friends with several wonderful ladies that I met in Girl Scouting. It has been 45 years since I first started working as a GS volunteer.
As I am writing this story, we are in the middle of the “pandemic”. I live in an Independent Living facility with over 400 elderly people. For our safety, we have not been allowed to leave the facility or have visits from family and friends for almost a month.
I look at Face Book sometimes on my computer, and I saw an advertisement about a Virtual Sing a Long that is coming up on April 28. I have registered for it, and I hope I have enough technical skills to participate. It’s being organized by a Girl Scout for seniors in Sarasota, who are in the same shut-in situation that I am in. I thought this would be a wonderful thing to participate in. I’m not a great singer, but I do love the Girl Scout songs.
I learned so much and had so much fun as an adult in Girl Scouting. I hope the girls I worked with enjoyed it as much as I did. Girl Scouting has impacted my life in so many ways. I will always be a strong advocate for the organization. Helen Christenson, Craig, and Betty