I became a Brownie in 1969. My father was in the Army, and each time we moved, my mother signed up all four girls for Girl Scouts in our new neighborhoods right away. This gave us an instant sense of community and was a familiar touchstone, no matter where we were. When we moved to Boise when I was a seventh grader, a girl in the cafeteria began to be unkind to me. Someone she knew walked up, heard what was going on, and said, “Oh, that’s Theresa. She’s in my Girl Scout troop. She’s cool.” This put an end to the attempted bullying, and was a great example of how being a Girl Scout means you have sisters everywhere.
I continued with Girl Scouting through my senior year of high school, led my daughter’s troops, and have been volunteering in different capacities with troops since then.
Most importantly, Girl Scout resident camp shaped me into who I am today. I started going to camp in 1976 at Camp Alice Pittenger, in Idaho. I had just finished seventh grade and was at a lonely time in my life. I instantly found my tribe at resident camp. I learned to whitewater canoe at that camp, developed my outdoor skills, and met counselors who would serve as role models for me forever. I recently reconnected with one of my favorite counselors from that time, Clyde, and found that even though we had lost touch, we both followed the same career paths (teaching kids with emotional issues), and have other parallels in our lives. Clyde, and many of my other counselors, demonstrated positive leadership skills and unconditional positive regard to me and many other campers.
From there, I went on to become a CIT at Camp Potomac Woods in Virginia in 1979. From that CIT group, we have a woman who was elected to the Virginia General Assembly, the head electrician of the Port of San Francisco, a woman who has worked in the field of supporting victims of domestic violence for many years, and many other accomplished people who have lent their skills to the world around them, including my honor of being the national elementary teacher of the year for the VFW in 2017. I say this not to brag, but to point out that the skills learned in Scouting translate to skills essential for life.
After my CIT year, I worked at resident camp for roughly another 15 summers, in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maine, and volunteered at camp in Michigan and Idaho. Those summers were what kept me going through the school year. The songs, the traditions, the out-of-doors, the pranks, and the camaraderie while working with girls are part of my self. I would not be who I am today without those experiences.
At camp, I learned to improvise and innovate. If we ran short of food at a cookout, we figured something out. If the tents were missing poles, we adapted by using tarps and tied knots. If bad weather came, we moved into a shelter and worked out our activity.
At camp I gained skills, and I was very happy to see my daughter do the same. We know how to make a one-match fire, how to make shelter, hang food from a tree, paddle a canoe and portage it, how to read the river and know when to get off and make camp. We know how to leave no trace and how to prep for a hike or cook over a campfire in the rain. We know how to take care of ourselves, and that is what Girl Scouts has to offer to all girls. The ability to take care of yourself is reflected in your self-esteem and sense of personal agency, which helps us stick up for ourselves and those in need.
I met my spouse at camp. We are preparing for a virtual camp singalong this weekend with our camp in Maine. We have Girl Scouting in our blood, as does our daughter. After the sonogram during the beginning of my pregnancy, we were thrilled to find out I was having a girl. We went out to eat right afterwards, and told each other with joy, “She’ll be a Girl Scout!” She was sung to sleep as an infant with camp songs. She helped out at an Obama Inauguration with her troop. She is now working as a naturalist at a state park, and when there was a canoe adrift in the Potomac River, she hopped into a kayak, with her PFD on, and quickly paddled out to retrieve it. Girl Scouts know what to do.