HAMBURG— This week, I spoke with two local Girl Scouts who have recently earned their Gold Awards, the highest award in Girl Scouting: Christine Kuczkowski and Megan Wischerath. The project requires a minimum of 80 hours of work, as well as leadership and community service components.
In order to begin the Gold Award process, girls must first earn the Silver Award, the second-highest award in Girl Scouts, and complete one senior or ambassador journey, or two of each, if the girl has not earned her silver award first. Those journeys are smaller projects intended to help the girls prepare for the more involved Gold project. She must also earn a number of merit badges and submit a proposal to the local council; in our case, the Girl Scouts of Western New York, with a detailed plan including fundraising sources, who else will be involved and the end goal of the project.
Staff reporter Alicia Greco spoke to Trevor Gross, a Boy Scout who is undertaking his Eagle Project right now at the Penn Dixie Paleontological Site. The Eagle, the highest award in Boy Scouts, requires the boy to be active in his troop for at least six months after achieving the Life Scout rank; demonstrate that he is living by the principles of the Scout Oath and Scout Law and be able to list on the application references who will speak to that; earn a total of 21 merit badges; serve in a leadership role as a Life Scout and plan, develop and give leadership in a project that benefits a school, church or community organization and has been approved by the Boy Scout council.
Almost every week, The Sun receives photos, notices or calls about local Boy and Girl Scouts making a difference in our community. Kuczkowski and her troop knitted blankets, pillows and teddy bears for patients at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo and Blessed Mother’s House in Buffalo and Wischerath collected sporting equipment for disabled children who attend Cradle Beach. These girls were two of 45 ladies recognized at the annual Gold Award ceremony on June 7, a fanfare-filled affair that celebrates what often requires years of work from students who are also often involved in sports and other extracurricular activities, in addition to school and Girl Scout commitments.
According to the Girl Scouts of America website, only 5 percent of Girl Scouts earn the Gold Award, and the vast majority drop out of the program before reaching high school. In Boy Scouts, about 7 percent obtained their Eagle ranks, according to the Boy Scouts of America.
Several things the girls I spoke with said struck me, as we talked about their projects, what Girl Scouts meant to them and how it impacted the rest of their lives.
“I was so close to not doing it,” said Kuczkowski. “When I think back on it, I was so close to saying no, because it was so daunting. But now, I’m so glad I did it.”
“If you have a passion and see a need, run with it,” said Wischerath. “The outcome can be very rewarding, not only for you, but for the people who benefit from [your project].”
It struck me that these sentiments are indicative of the perseverance and drive that is demonstrated by real leaders, the kind of people we all look up to as role models. I would choose a Gold Award or Eagle-ranked Scout as a role model, and I think all of our children would do well to do the same.
Think about these statistics. A total of 181 NASA astronauts were involved in Boy Scouts, 36.4 percent of West Point cadets were Scouts, as well as 191 members of Congress and 18 current United States governors.
According to the most recent data, 80 percent of women business owners were Girl Scouts, 69 percent of female United States Senators were Girl Scouts, 67 percent of female members of the House of Representatives were Girl Scouts and virtually every female astronaut who has flown in space was a Girl Scout.
In all, 64 percent of the female leaders listed in Who’s Who of American Women in the United States were once Girl Scouts, including Laura Bush, Sandra Day O’Connor, Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright, first woman space shuttle commander Eileen Collins, Katie Couric, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Gloria Steinem and so many more.
“Although sometimes they’d make a joke about [me being a Girl Scout], my friends thought it was really cool when I finished my project,” Megan Wischerath said. “And my leader was absolutely awesome. She gave me the encouragement and the strength to carry it through, start to finish.”
“It’s great to be able to help people with friends,” Kuczkowski said. “[My troop was] a close-knit group, for sure.”
Speaking with these girls made me think about my own Scouting experience. I joined Girl Scouts as a brownie when I was a shy kindergartner, and received my Gold Award just before I graduated from high school. I remember making crafts with the other little girls in the cafeteria of my elementary school, the rest of the building quiet and echoing after-hours. I cut my finger at my first camp-out but didn’t notice at first because the apples I was peeling had skins as red as the blood my mom had to tourniquet away.
I remember giggling with my middle school-aged friends as we doodled through our Junior Girl Scout meetings, our leader raising first her eyebrows, then her voice, as she tried to get us to stop talking about make-up and boys long enough to earn badges in environmental studies and civic awareness. We gave one of my fellow Scouts her first makeover at a camp-out one year, angering her mother and giving us all a lesson in the proper application of blue eyeshadow and red lipstick. We also learned how to read trail markers on a hike, when we got so lost we were two hours late for dinner.
I remember clenching my teeth as I strutted down a makeshift runway in the school gym, teetering in a pair of unfamiliar heels, as we raised money for a local charity as a Senior Girl Scout. My troop traveled to London and Edinborough my first year of high school, where we learned the difference between American and British Girl Scouts (or Guides) and the similarities too: That none of us liked to wear our dreaded uniforms outside the safety of our troop meetings. I remember learning to bake pancakes for a charity breakfast, rock climbing for an adventure badge and snuggling deep into my sleeping bag as 30 or more girls snoozed in the cabin around me, the high peak of the raw-beam ceiling sparkling with cobwebs over our heads.
But most of all, I remember hearing my name called, along with six of my fellow troop members, at our own Gold Award ceremony, years ago. I remember the hours and hours of work we all put in on our projects, which ranged from collecting first aid supplies to give to homeless shelters, to making baby-supply gift baskets for mothers in need, to my own writing and implementation of a series of anti-bullying and high school role-playing skits at local middle schools. I remember the pride in our perseverance and the bonds we formed that will last a lifetime.
This year, a member of my Girl Scout troop had her first child. I’ve been to two of my troop members’ wedding reception, one baby shower and countless parties, coffee dates and phone calls. We’re bound together by something stronger than friendship: The ties we formed in Girl Scouts.
My brother was an Eagle Scout, as well. I won’t speak for his experience, but I’m sure he could share stories about backpacking through New Mexico, playing raucous games of Werewolf at picnics and camp-outs and devising skits for courts of honor that made the adults and families laugh harder than the boys.
I also remember the years when it wasn’t “cool” to be a Girl Scout. My friends and I made up a code name for our meetings, so our high school friends wouldn’t know where we were going, the Tuesday nights we met over cookies and pop to work on our badges and our social lives. But I look back on those days and wonder if our friends would have laughed as much as we feared they would, if they knew how much fun we were having, the memories we were making, or the difference in our communities and our lives. I wonder if more girls didn’t hide their involvement or drop out for fear of social stigma, what an even greater impact we could all make in our world.
Looking at the list of Girl and Boy Scouts who have gone on to great things, the proof is in the pudding. There are many co-curricular activities that teach young people leadership, community service, teamwork and confidence, but I’d be hard-pressed to find another one that emphasizes all of them at once, while giving young people a dedicated group of friends and confidants for life.
Thank you, to my parents for getting me involved in Girl Scouts, even when I cried before meetings because I was scared to go into that big room full of other girls alone. Thank you for making me stick with it when I couldn’t see the benefits myself. And thank you to my leaders, for your boundless support and lifelong love, as we went from shrill pre-teens to hormonal high schoolers to adults with husbands, children and careers. You’re all like second mothers to me.
And congratulations to Megan, Catherine and Trevor. You’ve embarked on a journey that will take you further than you can imagine, from where you’re standing now.
Parents and guardians who have children of enrollment age: Think about the Boy or Girl Scouts for your little ones. The programs may have received negative press for less than savory policies in past years, but I think they’ll always be the sum of their parts, and those parts are greater than scandals that take the focus away from what’s most important.
Let’s teach our children to serve their communities, to be confident and strong in their convictions and to reach for the stars, no matter what gets in their way. Let’s raise children who are part of something that teaches them the fundamentals of world leaders, and in turn, help them become the leaders of tomorrow.
For more information about the local Girl Scouts, visit www.gswny.com
. Boy Scouts, go to www.wnyscouting.org
Read about Kuczkowski’s project on Page 8. Learn more about Wischerath on Page 7 and Gross on Page 8 and 9.