Thursday, April 23, 2015

Girl Scouts receive Spirit of Appreciation Award

Girls from three Girl Scout troops were presented the 2015 Spirit of Appreciation Award by the Arbutus Park Senior Spirit Awards Committee at a special luncheon at The Conference Center, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

The Girl Scouts were honored for creating “Generation Mingle” events at Arbutus Park Retirement Community. At the monthly events, girls and residents make wreaths and quilts together, put on fashion shows and play games together. Residents look forward to seeing the girls each month, especially those who don’t receive many visitors. As a result, special friendships and bonds have formed between the residents and Girl Scouts.

Lois Pudliner, Girl Scout volunteer and Arbutus staff member, nominated the Girl Scouts in appreciation of their time and commitment to serving others.

View this video to see pictures from Generation Mingle:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

GSWPA honors service, leadership at annual Awards of Distinction dinner

 Event chair David Davis, Patricia A. Burkart, CEO of GSWPA,
John and Michelle Polacek, NRC Chairman Stephen Burns
and his wife Joan Burns, and Honorary Chair Mrs. Joyce Murtha
At the 38th annual Awards of Distinction dinner April 20 in Johnstown, Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania honored leaders in the community who uphold the mission of Girl Scouting – to build girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.

Honorary chair Mrs. Joyce Murtha and event chair David Davis presented the evening's awards.

The 2015 winners of the Community Service Award are John and Michelle Polacek. The Polaceks are being honored for their many volunteer roles in the Johnstown region.

Michelle Polacek focuses her service on Johnstown’s youth, through Girl Scouts and Belmont United Methodist Church. She first became a troop co-leader 12 years ago when her daughter Haleigh was in first grade, and she’s been leading Girl Scouts ever since. She is also the service unit’s cookie manager. At her church, she leads the youth group, serves on the wellness committee and teaches Sunday school.

Michelle is also on the committee for the Chef’s Auction which benefits different local charities every year.

John Polacek, who is the Chief Operating Officer of JWF Defense Systems and JWF Industries, has served on many boards, including the Red Cross, Arcadia Theatre, Problem Solutions, Arbutus Park Manor, Veteran Community Initiatives and as the Secretary and Treasurer of the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce.

He joins the Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania board of directors in April.

Girl Scouts welcomed keynote speaker, the Honorable Stephen G. Burns, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Mr. Burns was sworn in as a Commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Nov. 5, 2014, to a term ending June 30, 2019. President Obama designated him as Chairman of the NRC effective Jan. 1, 2015.

He joined a long list of well-known leaders who have spoken at the event, including Dan Rooney, Tip O'Neill, Lee Iacocca, Leon Panetta, and Nancy Pelosi.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Camp commentary: Girl Scouts share why they love camping!

The countdown to camp is on! 

It's no secret that camp is a favorite Girl Scout tradition, so we asked members of our Media Team to share why they love camping with Girl Scouts.

Libby is a Junior Girl Scout who has enjoyed camping with Girl Scouts for the past three years.

What's your camp name?

What's your favorite Girl Scout camp?

How many years have you been going to camp?
One year of resident camp; three years troop camping

What's your favorite activity to do at camp? Why?
My favorite activity is archery. Archery makes me feel strong and like I can do anything.

What kind of skills or qualities has going to Girl Scout camp helped you develop?
Camp helped me be brave. It was the first time I was on my own and away from my parents for that long.

Do you have a favorite camp memory? Tell us about it.
My favorite camp memory was canoeing at Redwing. It gave us time to talk and get to know each other better. And, I enjoyed the sights from the canoe.

What do you love most about Girl Scout camp?
I thought that meals were great! We sang and played games. I liked how everyone passed the food around the table and shared.

Girl Scout camp is a tradition central to Girl Scouts since 1912 and is still available to girls in all 50 states. Today’s camps are highly evolved, matching the interests of twenty-first-century girls. Girl Scouts moves at the speed of girls, which is evident in its wide range of camp offerings—everything from horses and whitewater rafting to Camp Katniss and Iron Chefs. 

Girl Scouts is committed to pursuing its mission through the camp experience, offering an astounding array of innovative, fun, and memorable camp activities that allow girls to build courage, confidence, and character, and make the world a better place. Learn more about Girl Scout camp at

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thank you, Volunteers!

What you do is amazing.

As a Girl Scout Volunteer, you know first-hand that the littlest voices can have a big impact. And girls with big ideas grow up to be courageous adults.

During National Volunteer Week -- and every week -- we're grateful for your passion and dedication to Girl Scouting. We made you a little video to show you how we feel. Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Girl Scout Sisters

A year filled with exciting adventures for girls starts with one day, one meeting, and one role model that shows them they can accomplish more than they ever imagined.

For ten-year-old Kristianna Shearer, that role model is her older sister, Kimberly McCullough.

McCullough, 24 was a Girl Scout from third grade through her high school graduation. She has fond memories of fun adventures to new places.

“We traveled a lot,” McCullough recalled.

Through Girl Scouts she traveled to Canada and New York, but her favorite trip was a visit to Ace Adventure Park in West Virginia.

“That was the best trip ever,” she said.

To ensure that her younger sister had the same opportunities through Girl Scouts, McCullough signed on as an assistant leader for her troop.

“I had a blast in Girl Scouts,” she said. “I wanted the same for her.”

Tradition of Leadership

Girl Scouts connects girls with adults who guide and inspire them, but the experience also introduces adults to one another, forging friendships that last long after their girls graduate.

Elaine Effort and Karla Byrd met when both led Girl Scout troops.  Effort started as a Daisy leader, then led her daughter April’s Brownie troop.

When Byrd’s daughter Catherine was old enough to join Girl Scouts, she couldn't wait to get her involved, and to also get involved herself as the Daisy troop’s leader.

Both troop’s met at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in East Liberty. Each year as their daughters bridged to the next level of Girl Scouts, Byrd and Effort would recruit volunteers to lead younger troops.

“For years, there would be a hundred Girl Scouts spread throughout the church in meeting rooms every Tuesday night,” Effort recalls.

The leaders shared more than meeting space. They held end of the year events together and share best-practices for leading girls.

“Elaine always has great ideas and a deep knowledge of Girl Scouting,” says Byrd, but she wasn’t the only one inspired by Effort’s know-how.

“Whatever Elaine’s girls did, my girls wanted to do,” laughs Byrd.

Their daughters are now grown, but Effort and Byrd have remained friends and stay connected to the organization they love. Effort leads Daisy and Brownie Girl Scouts in Homewood and Byrd is a member GSWPA’s board of directors.

Uncommon Bond

Girl Scouts is for every girl without barriers placed on ability, race or economic status. The same is true for our volunteers.

Sharon Bond, a longtime Girl Scout co-leader and volunteer at Camp Hawthorne Ridge in Erie County, brings boundless energy to the camp’s day camp program, and she doesn’t let the fact that she’s in a wheelchair slow her down. As Bond guides Girl Scouts through their camp stay, she inspires them to overcome their own barriers.

“I’ve seen many girls come to camp nervous about trying new things,” Sharon said, “They see me getting in the pool or helping girls through the day’s activities, and soon they are trying what they once thought wasn’t possible for them.”

Friday, April 10, 2015

College students love to lead in Girl Scouts

Mara Menk, Emma Williams and 
Girl Scout Alayna Henry

When most college students have extra time on their hands, it’s a chance to watch TV, connect with friends, workout or catch up on sleep.

For IUP sophomores Emma Williams and Mara Menk, their precious free time is dedicated to helping girls develop to their full potential through Girl Scouts.

The pair are leaders of a second-year Daisy Troop from East Pike Elementary School. Since the beginning of the school year, they’ve helped the girls earn badges, sell cookies, and participate in local events like World Thinking Day.

Path to leadership

The opportunity to lead Girl Scouts was a natural next step for Williams, an early childhood education/special education major from Mt. Lebanon. She was a Girl Scout from Kindergarten through her senior year in high school. As a senior she earned a Gold Award, the highest award a girl can achieve in Girl Scouting. She also worked at Girl Scouts’ Camp Conshatawba in Summerhill and Camp Singing Hills in Oil City for several summers, going by her camp name “Ace.”

She has many fond memories of her time in Girl Scouts, so she reached out to the Girl Scout service unit in Indiana to volunteer. There were a few girls who needed a leader and Williams was eager to help.

She just needed to find a co-leader.

Friendly favor

Menk, a molecular biology major from Monroeville, wasn’t looking to become a leader of grade school girls. She wasn’t a Girl Scout as a child, so co-leading a troop with Williams was a new experience she approached with some trepidation.

“Emma tricked me into this,” laughs Menk.

“I drafted Mara because she’s very organized and great with financials,” Williams quickly adds.

The co-leaders play off of each other’s strengths. Menk is the organizer; she tracks money and handles the forms and paperwork. Williams has extensive knowledge of Girl Scouts, so she handles the programming for the girls to earn badges and work on their Girl Scout Journey.

“We have a lot of things in common,” Williams notes, “But we also balance each other out.”

Both leaders enjoy working with the girls, who they treat more like equals. “We treat them like people, not kids,” says Williams.

“For them, it’s like having two extra sisters,” Menk adds.

Lessons for all

Since she is studying early childhood education in school, Williams likes the opportunity to apply the theories she learns in the classroom to her work with Girl Scouts.

“I like to use what I learn in class with the troop in the most fun way possible,” Williams says.

Menk enjoys sharing her own passions with the girls, and hopes to spark their interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through hands-on activities.

“If it’s sticky, messy or explodes, they’re all for it,” laughs Menk.

The leaders add STEM skill-building activities to many of the programs they create. “Even with a teddy bear tea, we’re looking for ways to introduce engineering,” Williams says.

Menk and Williams share their passion for travel with the girls, too. Williams spent last summer in Sweden in a study abroad program, and this summer she plans to work at Our Chalet, a Girl Scouts’ World Center in Adelboden, Sweden. Menk will be part of a study abroad program in Copenhagen.

To help the girls learn more about their global community, the leaders play a game with the girls using currency from around the world. The girls place the money on the corresponding country.

“The girls loved Norwegian coins because they have holes in them,” Williams recalls. “They were fascinated.”

Fun and fulfilling

Menk and Williams make troop leadership fit into their hectic schedules with help from their local Girl Scout network. They attend a service unit meeting every month where they get tips and best practices from other Girl Scout volunteers.

Despite managing a busy college schedule, they feel that time spent leading Girl Scouts has been worth their precious free time. Helping girls try new things and gain confidence gives them a sense of accomplishment, too.

“We’re all about girl-empowerment,” Williams states.

The leaders enjoy helping girls reach their goals, but they have goals of their own in Girl Scouts. Williams would like to be a service unit leader one day, helping provide the support she’s received from other Girl Scout volunteers.

Menk wants to continue leading girls, hopefully co-leading a larger troop of Brownies next year with her friend who introduced her to Girl Scouting.

Williams is in for next year, too, on one condition: “As long as Mara is handling the finances.”

Johnstown couple dedicated to helping others

John and Michele Polacek are dedicated to serving the community they love.

John grew up in Johnstown, the son of a steelworker and one of nine children, so the family’s income had far to stretch. Now a successful business leader—he serves as Chief Operating Officer of JWF Defense Systems and JWF Industries—John fondly recalls the volunteers who guided him during the lean years of his childhood in Boy Scouts and at the YMCA. They helped shape his dedication to service today.

For Michelle, her mother inspired her to live by the golden rule. “She would tell me to ‘do to others what you would have them do to you,’ and it’s been a motto for me.”

Michelle focuses her service on Johnstown’s youth, through Girl Scouts and Belmont United Methodist Church. She first became a troop co-leader 12 years ago when her daughter Haleigh was in first grade, and she’s been leading Girl Scouts ever since. She is also the service unit’s cookie manager. At her church, she leads the youth group, serves on the wellness committee and teaches Sunday school.

Michelle is also on the committee for the Chef’s Auction which benefits different local charities every year.

Given Michelle’s dedication to her community, it’s no surprise that service is a focus of her troop of Senior Girl Scouts. “They love that feeling of accomplishment and the confidence they get from helping others,” Michelle adds. Her daughter Cassidy is a member of the troop and, like her parents, always considers how she can help others.

“For her sixteenth birthday, Cassidy only wanted her driver’s permit and to give blood at the Red Cross,” says Michelle.

John has served on many boards, including the Red Cross, Arcadia Theatre, Problem Solutions, Arbutus Park Manor, Veteran Community Initiatives and as the Secretary and Treasurer of the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce. He joins the Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania board of directors in April.

John hopes his service also inspires others to get involved. “If we impact enough people, maybe some of them will go on to help others in the community,” he says.

John and Michelle support each other in managing the many commitments they have to local causes and organizations.

“I support Michelle in all her endeavors,” says John. “Cookie time is cookie time for both of us.”

Michelle laughs, “Sometimes we get a little tired, but it’s all worth it.” 

John and Michelle will be presented with the Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania Community Service Award at the Awards of Distinction dinner in Johnstown on April 20.

Four women, one family, and nearly 80 years of Girl Scouting

For Vi Ahlquist, Becky Mickle, Jodi Holland and Natalie Holland, Girl Scouts is more than an afterschool activity. It’s as much of a family trait as eye color or freckles.

Vi Ahlquist, second from left, enjoying the outdoors 
with her Girl Scout sisters, circa 1937
It all started when 14-year-old Vi joined Girl Scouts in 1936, setting in motion a tradition that is still a part of her family nearly 80 years later.

Vi was a member of Girl Scout troop number three which met at Grace Methodist Church in Warren, Pa.

As a young Girl Scout, Vi enjoyed the outdoors with her friends—hiking, swimming and songs by the campfire. 

The troop did many activities at the church as well. Vi especially enjoyed the connection she had with her Girl Scout sisters. It’s that spirit of instant friendship that kept Vi involved in Girl Scouts throughout her life.

Vi’s lifelong interest in Girl Scouts went beyond the Warren area. On one of her husband Walt’s business trips, of course she wanted to meet some Girl Guides! She worked with Girl Scouts’ national headquarters in New York to connect with Girl Guides from Ring deutscher Pfadfinderverbände while she was in Germany in 1973.

“They sent an official letter of introduction,” Vi recalls. She has many souvenirs from that trip, including Girl Guide songbooks written in German.

When she purchased a vacation home in Findley Lake, New York, Vi became involved in Girl Scouts there, too. Her granddaughter Hillary Ahlquist—who lived right next door—was in a local troop.

“Word got around quickly that Vi Ahlquist had gone through the ranks,” Vi laughs.

Back in Warren, Vi served on the council’s board of directors, and participated in the 75th and 100th Girl Scouts anniversary celebrations with her family and fellow Girl Scouts by her side.
Vi stays in touch with the friends she’s met over the years through Girl Scouts.

“Make new friends, and keep the old,” Vi laughs, quoting a traditional Girl Scout song.

The women formed a group called the Trefoil Connection which still meets four times a year. At the December holiday party and business meeting, members vote to allocate the group’s annual donation. They’ve donated funds to help maintain GSWPA camps and often purchase Girl Scout Cookies from local troops.

Becky Mickle

Vi served as a Girl Scouts’ Neighborhood Chairman for many years, responsible for recruiting new Girl Scout troop leaders.

“That’s how I became involved as a troop leader,” laughs Becky Mickle, Vi’s daughter. “Mom recruited me and babysat Jodi, who was a baby at the time, while I went to meetings.”

Becky was only a Girl Scout leader in Warren for a year before her husband’s career in the Navy took them to new places to call home. For the next 26 years, the family lived in Illinois, Massachusetts, Virginia, Mississippi, New Jersey, South Carolina and California.

Girl Scouts helped Becky throughout all the moves and transitions by connecting her daughter to the instant friendships her mom Vi always enjoyed in Girl Scouting.

“That’s why I wanted to get Jodi involved in Girl Scouts,” Becky says. “It was a way for her to make new friends every time we moved. And it worked.”

After her husband retired from the Navy in 2003, Becky’s family—including Jodi, her husband and son—returned from San Diego to Warren. Their cars and trucks full of belongings formed a cross-country caravan that went straight to Vi’s house.

“We came back for the weather,” laughs Becky.

Jodi and Natalie Holland

Jodi Holland made the most of her years as a Girl Scout in New Jersey, Mississippi and, lastly, San Diego. She has sashes full of badges and a pile of scrapbooks, documenting a happy childhood full of fun and friendship through Girl Scouting.

Jodi is overjoyed to pass that tradition on to her daughter Natalie, the family’s fourth generation Girl Scout who was born in 2004 after the family returned to Warren. Jodi co-leads her Junior Girl Scout troop.

Vi Ahlquist (seated), Natalie Holland, Jodi Holland 
and Becky Mickle
When Jodi asked Natalie why she became a Girl Scout, Natalie replied, “It’s a family tradition, and I want to keep the tradition going.”

Continuing traditions is very important to the girls in Jodi’s troop. For their Bronze Award project, the girls are creating a CD of Girl Scout songs. A few of the songs the troop is including in the project bring fond memories back for Natalie’s great-grandmother.

“We sang ‘Linger’ when we were Girl Scouts, too,” Vi remembers.

Girl Scouts for life

The tradition that Vi started in 1936 is one her family carries on with pride. In addition to Becky, Jodi and Natalie, several other women in Vi’s family have made the Girl Scout promise, including daughter Mary Hofer and granddaughters Emily Hofer Gausman and Hillary Ahlquist.

Vi has enjoyed the connections that Girl Scouts has provided her and her family over the years. “There’s an old hymn, ‘Blest Be the Tie that Binds,’ and I feel Girl Scouts does that,” Vi says. “Girl Scouts is the tie that binds us together.”

Through Girl Scouts, Vi feels that she’s had experiences she couldn’t get elsewhere.

“I’m just a regular, ordinary old grandma,” Vi laughs. “But I have had a lot of opportunities.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

2015 Bling Your Booth Winner!

Bling Your Booth Winners,
Brownie Troop 36002 of North East

Congratulations to Brownie Troop 36002 of North East for winning our council's Bling Your Booth Contest! Their awesomely creative Dr. Seuss themed booth was the fan favorite with 442 votes! Great job, girls! 

The troop will receive a Girl Scouts prize pack. 

We'd also like to give a shout-out to the two runners-up, who've won bragging rights for their fantastic booths: 

Daisy Troop 36655 of Kinzua County had 332 votes for their cute and colorful booth! 

And Daisy Troop 52333 of Natrona Heights cooked up 245 votes for their awesome cookie kitchen booth! 

Missed out on entering your troop into the Bling Your Booth contest? It's not too late to enter the national contest through GSUSA. Enter on their Facebook page through April 30. 

*Votes were tallied on April 7 at 12 p.m. Additional likes may be added after that time, but will not affect the contest results. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

GSWPA websites are getting a makeover!

By now, we hope you've heard about the new Customer Engagement Initiative and Volunteer Toolkit to be launched this summer. But, we haven't talked much about the other major piece to this project: the website!
Yes, is getting a complete makeover, including a new design, navigation and functionality, all geared toward making the site more user-friendly, particularly for potential members. Some of the new site features will include: 
  • an events calendar with advanced search capabilities and a convenient calendar view; 
  • a searchable forms tool that will allow users to easily find forms and files; 
  • banner ads throughout the site to promote seasonal initiatives;
  • and a mobile-friendly design so it can be easily navigated on any device. (Nearly one-third of our site visits come from a mobile device, so this is a much-needed improvement!)
Want to see what our site will look like? Check out a few examples from other councils that have already moved over to the new platform, including West Central Florida, North Carolina Coastal Pines and Eastern Oklahoma.
The website migration will begin in mid-April, with the new site expected to launch in late-May. Stay tuned for more updates and feel free to contact us with any questions.

Online Shop Makeover, too!

A few weeks after our website gets a makeover, it's the online shop's turn in June! Our online shop will be managed by GSUSA.
  • GSUSA will process all online orders and ship them directly from their NJ distribution warehouse.
  • Customers can still purchase GSWPA merchandise online and those items will be shipped directly from GSWPA. This will reduce council operating costs (inventory, freight, data hosting, mailing supplies, and postage).
  • This will offer an improved 24/7 online and mobile shopping experience.
  • This conversion will help us to maintain consistent branding, pricing, and a full assortment of merchandise with GSUSA.
We'll provide you with more information next month. In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions!