By Rebecca Dravis
12:45PM / Friday, October 13, 2017
You might have seen the group of 100 Girl Scouts in the Berkshire Mall last March, coming together to learn about other cultures on World Thinking Day.
I wanted to preserve the moment.
There, in front of me, stood six young ladies from my Girl Scout troop, holding three binders that, on the surface, didn't look all that interesting. But, as with people and programs like the Girl Scout program itself, there was more than meets the eye.
Inside the binders was a brand new curriculum these girls as fifth-graders had developed over the past six months to give to their two schools, Williamstown and Lanesborough elementary schools, to help teach other fifth-graders the Bill of Rights in a more hands-on and engaging way. Why? Because they believe that now more than ever, Americans need to know and understand their rights.
This was their Girl Scout Bronze Award project. They voted to do this project from a pool of three ideas they came up with on their own; the other two were throwing a party for the community's shut-in elders who might be lonely and hosting an event to teach kids about the important contributions of women in society, from medicine to arts to sports.
Never heard of a Bronze Award? You're not alone - and based on many social media posts and comments following the announcement of the Boy Scouts of America's decision to allow girls into Boy Scouting, it's clear there are a lot of misconceptions about what Girl Scouting offers girls.
And what those Girl Scouts offer the community in return.
So allow me to educate you. Sure, Girl Scouts do things like go camping and earn badges, just like the boys do. How often they camp, what badges they earn, varies by troop, as the core principle of the Girl Scout program is that troops are girl-led. My girls often choose not to camp, while our sister Williamstown troop regularly camps. One Pittsfield troop has done archery so often that some of the girls have joined clubs to hone their skills further on the weekends. A few years ago, a Williamstown troop hosted a "reunion dinner" for the displaced residents of The Spruces to come together after being scattered after Tropical Storm Irene ruined their homes. Every March, all Berkshire County Girl Scouts gather in the Berkshire Mall for their "World Thinking Day" event, where each troop presents a different country and girls "tour the world" to learn about other cultures. And this past summer, 11 girls from Berkshire County were recognized for earning the Silver Award (for Cadette-level Girl Scouts) and the highest honor, which indeed is equivalent to the Boy Scout's Eagle Scout honor: the Gold Award, a solo Take Action project that has sustainable impact in their communities - and beyond.
Troop 12940 also helped make reusable plastic bags as part of the Adams Bagshare Project. They loved using the grommet tool.
Because beyond the core Girl Scout leadership program of skill-building badges like First Aid, Camping, Geocaching and Digital Photography, community service rests at the heart of most troops. It's a huge part of what my troop does - from caroling in the nursing home to donating food to the Williamstown food pantry as younger girls to completing more complex projects as they grew more mature.
Here's what my troop has done in just the last two years, in addition to the Bill of Rights Bronze Award project: When a classmate died at the beginning of fourth grade, they brainstormed and designed a "buddy bench," helped direct its construction and decorated it, and donated it to Williamstown Elementary School in honor of their friend to encourage inclusion and acceptance of all people. They also presented the bench at a WES School Board meeting where they spoke to a room of adults on camera; they were nervous but did great. They learned carpentry skills to create a "Little Free Library" repurposed from one of the girl's old dollhouses that now stands as a community resource at Wild Oats in Williamstown and presented it to a Chamber of Commerce meeting at the store. (You should have seen them learning to attach shingles to the roof!) They participated in the Adams Bagshare Project by making more than 100 reusable bags to help Adams reach its goal of eliminating plastic shopping bags. Twice they have brought treats and handmade thank you cards to the volunteers manning the polls on special election days. Every month they collect non-perishable food and donate it to help the North Adams E3 program's Little Free Food Pantry on River Street.
And yes, they sell cookies, and with their proceeds they donate to organization like JDRF, the World Wildlife Foundation, the Berkshire Immigrant Center and - coming soon! - a neat project with the Williamstown COOL Committee.
They're pretty amazing kids, and it has been a privilege to watch them grow from tiny little Daisies to proud and strong Cadette Girl Scouts.
I don't begrudge the Boy Scouts' decision to allow girls to join their program. Having more options to involve kids in structured leadership programs is a good thing. What does offend me is the lack of awareness of what the Girl Scout program already offers girls in a society where girls and women are often still undervalued and overlooked. The Boy Scouts didn't make this decision because the Girl Scouts don't already offer an amzing program, and it shouldn't be seen as such. The Girl Scouts don't need to "live up to" the Boy Scouts or "step up their game" to be more like Boy Scouts.
Regardless of what you might think, Girl Scouts are more than just cookies and crafts. These girls are a force to be reckoned with, and they are changing the world.
Rebecca Dravis is the community editor at iBerkshires.com and a longtime Girl Scout leader (as well as a Girl Scout herself as a child!).