I can still remember 2008 when I was asked what my greatest accomplishment was for my college essay, and I wrote, getting my Gold Award.
Very few people at the time stayed in Girl Scouts to get their Gold Award. The cute faces no longer sold all of those Girl Scout Cookies and the stigma of being a good girl “Girl Scout” wasn’t very popular in high school.
I was part of the cool Girl Scout group. We liked volunteering. We spent our Girl Scout money on a cruise to Mexico and we stayed at Embassy Suites rather than a campsite for our annual Girl Scout meeting. Girl Scouting really is what you make it and it can be cool at any age.
I love volunteering and building community and that desire began with Girl Scouts – it began as my sister did her Silver Award project cleaning a home for pregnant teenagers and sewing baby bags for them with her troop. It began as we planned a trip to Savannah, Georgia to visit Juliette Gordon Low’s House or the Kennedy Space Center where we slept under a rocket. It began as I worked on badges to learn how to cook.
When I was 17, I started working on my Gold Award project. I was one of two girls in my troop to get her Gold Award. This service project for a Gold Award had to be over 60 hours and had to be something that lasted. So, if it was an event, it had to be an annual event. To start, I had to analyze my community and various issues within my South Florida community. I was more involved with my church community as a Sunday School teacher. I decided to make a mural of all of the kids in my Sunday School class for my Gold Award. I’m not the best artist, so I worked with other artists to help draw and paint my students. I think when we are young, we see our limits and don’t realize how powerful and impactful we are. It was rewarding to have my students represent a piece of the church and be a visual reminder to the diversity different voices within the congregation.
As an adult, I wanted to volunteer in my community, and I did a Google search for empowering women organizations to volunteer. The first result was Girl Scouts. I was afraid to be a Girl Scout leader because I didn’t have children, and I didn’t know if I could still relate to children. But I pursued that option.
The Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana paired me with another single twenty something, and we started a new Girl Scout troop in Edgewater, Illinois. We started in the middle of Girl Scout Cookie Season and thankfully sold all of our cookies and made more in donations than in profits, so we could buy books and Girl Scout uniforms for every girl in our combination Brownie and Junior troop.
My girls constantly surprised me with their insight, their energy, and their creativity. We participated in World Thinking Day by choreographing a dance, learning about Ivory Coast, and making too many plantains to share with the other Girls Scouts. We took a day trip to the Art Institute and completed our first Girl Scout badge. I got to teach and prepare the financial statements and most importantly, I got to know kids and families in my community.
It was a great experience and the four troop leaders who replaced us also were twenty-somethings without kids. I like to think we started a trend.
Amanda Elliott is a Chicago-based marketing professional and blogs about city life and the Chicago start-up community for Windy City Cosmo.