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.”