Friday, May 29, 2015

2015 Gold Award Rewind

We are so proud of all our girls who received their Gold Awards at the May 17th ceremony. On this day over 40 girls received the achievement known as the highest honor in Girl Scouts. Less than 5% of girls who ever join Girl Scouts receive the award, making it also the most prestigious. The hard work and dedication put forth by them throughout their many years in Girl Scouts lets us know that they earned it, and absolutely deserve it. Great job girls!

You can view photos of individual girls with their certificates by viewing our event Facebook album. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Surviving the Impossible: One Girl Scout's Story

Jessica Buchanan and husband Erik Lanemalm at the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council's 2015 Success to Significance. 

On October 25, 2011, Jessica Buchanan and husband, Erik Landemalm, were working as humanitarian aid workers when Jessica and a colleague were kidnapped at gunpoint and held for ransom by Somali pirates. Jessica who was in the Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, had just married Erik two years earlier, and they were living in Mairobi, Kenya. According to her, their future couldn't have been brighter. 

"It was just like any other day," she told attendees of this year's Success to Significance (S2S) luncheon. She was contemplating what she would have for dinner when she got a call that placed her in the vehicle that would be her last free ride for more than 90 days. The car was cut off as they drove by what Jessica assumed were just "rude drivers". But then the men got out of their vehicle and opened her car door. That was when she saw the gun pointing at her and knew something had gone horribly wrong. 

The pirates commanded them to get in their vehicle. Looking at her colleague, Jessica mouthed, "What's happening?"

"We're being kidnapped," he said. 

Jessica was 32 years old and for the next three months she would be moved constantly, never knowing where she was, terrorized, held outside in filthy conditions and afraid she may never see her husband again. 

Erik worked furiously behind the scenes during these three months to bring his wife home. With the FBI, professional hostage negotiators and the United States government they worked day and night at the long, impossible process of negotiating her release.

Erik spoke to Jessica over the phone once after her kidnapping, which was when the pirates verified to agents that Jessica was indeed still alive. The ransom, which had originally started at $45 million, had been negotiated down to less than $4 million, but it was still more than Jessica's family could afford. After hearing his wife's voice on their call, Erik set down the phone and exclaimed to agents that it, he feared, was the last time he would ever talk with Jessica. 

On January 25, 2012, Jessica was dying. Starving and in excruciating pain, Jessica laid awake beneath the stars when suddenly the world erupted in gunfire. The night was alight with the flash of bullets, and all around her she could hear men shouting and running. All she could do was throw her mattress on top of herself, and lay as low to the ground as she could. What seemed like forever passed, and then she heard someone whisper her name. 

"Jessica," She heard a man say. 

She was too shocked to respond. 

"Jessica?" Someone behind the shade of night said again. It was an American voice. 

Then the voice said, "Jessica. It's the United States military. We're here to rescue you."

I'm safe, wasn't something she'd think however until they were finally flying away. The voice that called to her belonged to one of the soldiers of the infamous SEAL Team Six. The same team that killed Osama Bin Laden. 

As Jessica related her experience during this year's Success to Significance guests, not an eye was left dry in the room. The tale of remarkable resilience and rescue of course could only be summarized, but which is laid out in full detail in Jessica and Erik's memoir, Impossible Odds 

After this years event, Jessica spoke with Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council (GSSJC) and said her experience in Girl Scouts helped her through her ordeal. She learned how to sew in Girl Scouts, which helped her repair her clothes during her captivity when she was given few resources and her clothes were often torn as they moved her from place to place. Fundamentally, Jessica believes Girl Scouts contributed to the attitude of resiliency that she had to maintain to guard herself against the feeling of hopelessness.

"In us is a wealth of resources," she told GSSJC. "Unless we're tested, we may never know what we're made of. So in that way I am grateful for the experience. Now I know more about myself than I used to."

Before leaving S2S, Jessica shared this message for girls: 

"Women rock! We are amazing, strong, innovative, resourceful and we can make things happen. This experience taught me that all we have to do is believe we are, and it will be true."

Monday, May 18, 2015

Five Ways to Prepare for Resident Camp

Girl Scouts Summer Resident Camp at one of GSSJC's amazing camp locations is sure to be a time filled with joy and amazing experiences. Camp, however, can also be a time when girls experience minor anxiety if they've never been away from home before, and especially in a more rustic setting. A great way to prepare girls for camp is to attend one of the Council's many outdoor activities between now and then, and get them acquainted ahead of time using these following ideas:

1. Have a Camp-In
There is nothing so fun and comforting as having a camp-in in your own backyard--or maybe even your living room! Invite some friends, pitch a tent, break out the s'mores and have fun! Just getting into the camping mind-set will help ease some of her nerves. 

2. Tune-in to the GSSJC Resident Camp Webinar
Parents and new campers (and even returning campers) are encouraged to attend this brief orientation, May 21. Learn what and how to pack, what type of meals are served, how camp staff copes with homesickness (and how parents can further help prevent it!), how the Trading Post/Ship's Store works, what to expect at check in/check out and more!

3. Create an Environment of Enthusiasm 
If our girls know how excited their caregivers are about camp, it will help them get excited, too. She'll pick up on the enthusiasm. Look over the camp materials together and talk about the things she wants to try.  

4. Set Summer Goals to Achieve at Camp
Set summer goals to achieve at camp--for example make a new friend, learn something new, go off the diving board for the first time, etc. Let her know that camp is fun, safe place that is full of new and exciting adventures.

5. Talk About Communications
Talk about communications with your daughter during camp. You can email your daughter everyday, but camp is a technology free zone. That means no cell-phones, or ipads and laptops they can skype from. This is a rule because we want girls to allow themselves to connect with others at camp in the present tense, and focus their attention on meeting new friends and enjoying the activities we've prepared for them. 

Thank you Girl Scouts of Heart of the South for the inspiration and materials behind this blog piece. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Trading Teeth for Tasty Treats: The Life-Changing Decision that Led One Girl Scout to Become a Top Chef in Houston.

Erin Smith, the executive chef for Main Kitchen at the JW Marriott Houston Downtown, has dazzled and delighted taste buds with her culinary prowess from New York to San Francisco—and to think she might have never been a chef! Fortunately she is though, and fortunately for the Houston food scene, which was just ranked the no. 8 Best Food City in America by Thrillist, she’s returned to her hometown where she has worked at restaurants like Blacksmith, Plonk! and spent nine months as the culinary director for the Clumsy Butcher restaurant group. But another lifetime and a few decades ago, Erin was a Girl Scout with the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council.

Last month we were happy to be reunited with Erin during a visit to the four-star hotel where she took a break from preparing the evening’s menu to share her amazing story of how she went from being a Girl Scout to college biology major and then became the executive chef for one of the best hotels in Houston.  

GSSJC: When did you realize you wanted to be a chef—not a dentist?

ES: Between my junior and senior year of college I studied in Spain. I got the sense that women there are really strong, almost hard-headedly independent and, of course, that translates into a pride for their cooking. They are really passionate about everything they do, and they do things that they love. That made an impression on me. It wasn’t that I didn’t love dentistry, but I left Spain with a clearer idea of who I was and what I wanted to do: cooking.

GSSJC: How nervous were you making that career change? It’s really courageous, and you have to have a lot of confidence to decide to go from what you know into a field you had no experience with.

ES: I’ve always known what my interests were: I loved studying biology in college— but the question was, “How do I turn this into a career?” I thought I was limited to being either a dentist, a doctor or a scientist who worked in a lab. Spain opened my eyes, though, and showed me that food relates to biology—cooking is chemistry. All I needed to do was open my eyes and realize that I have the power to make the career I want. I never let the fear stop me. I’ve made a lot of decisions since then to work in positions that really challenged me. The fear was there, but I recognized that, “Ok, if I’m nervous then that must mean I’m excited about this, and I’m about to do something really great.” That understanding allowed me to take my life in another direction.

GSSJC: How do you think your time in Girl Scouts helped you?

ES: When I think about Girl Scouts, I always think about the good memories I’ve had with my mom and my friends. Certainly it impacted me when I stop to think about it. It’s the first time in a girl’s life where we are making friendships in an all-girl environment where there isn’t pressure to compete in a male hierarchy where your just trying to find a place. Every girl had a place, and we were learning to lead and work towards our goals.

GSSJC: And that team aspect plays well in the kitchen?

ES: Yeah, absolutely. In this hotel we have a lot of women in powerful roles, like our female pastry chef, and that’s interesting because we work well together. We have a lot of really strong, opinionated women here, and it works.

GSSJC: What was your favorite part about being a Girl Scout?

ES: Many of my fondest memories are of going to resident camp during the summer with my troop. A big part of that was about going into a different environment together and living those friendships. One memory I have is of building gingerbread houses together. It’s funny because that is something I do professionally now. And s’mores, of course. Not too long ago [at Main Kitchen] we featured a dessert that was our take on s’mores, and that certainly brought back a lot of sweet memories.

GSSJC: Did you cook when you were younger?

ES: Yes. I think the first thing I learned how to cook was eggs, and the ironic thing is in college, in one of the first chemistry labs I did, I learned about how the proteins in eggs change. The thing is cooking wasn’t a lifelong passion for me. I remember learning how to cook crepes for my family when I was younger and that was fun, but it didn’t become a passion until Spain. I didn’t have a lot of training, I didn’t know anyone who was a chef, but that became something I was proud of when my recipes turned out to be really good. I was able to say, “Wow, I did that, and no one helped me.”

GSSJC: So Girl Scouts can’t exactly take credit for making you want to become a chef. You weren’t making s’mores one evening at camp when you suddenly realized it was your life’s destiny to do so.

ES: No, not exactly. But Girl Scouts taught me how to own my decisions. You have to have confidence in yourself to do something that scares you. You don’t have to have the entire world’s support, but you do have to have your own support. The fact that you want to do it is the only reason you need.

GSSJC: How did Girl Scouts prepare you for the position of executive chef at the JW Marriott Houston Downtown?

ES: You learn very quickly, or relearn as an executive chef, that you can’t do everything by yourself. Restaurants don’t operate with just one person. You have to work with a team, and they have to want to work with you, too. So the key to running a kitchen successfully is being able to motivate people and work towards that common goal.

GSSJC: What is something you would want to cook for Girl Scouts if you took them camping?

ES: I think it would be fun to make a rustic cornbread, like they did in the old days with just a skillet and your fire. Maybe we’d even catch a fish and grill it. I was a really picky eater when I was younger, so fish may not be something girls would enjoy. There is something to be said about connecting nature with us, and we can do that through our food.

GSSJC: What would you tell the girls of today?

ES: Women are smart. We all have something to bring to the table whether that’s passion, brains or both. A lot of women feel societal pressure to stay in certain roles or careers, but you need to be able to step out and do what you want. You have to stand up for yourself and who you are. I did Girl Scouts because it was fun, and I enjoyed it—we need to do things when we get older for that same reason.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Mother My Troop Leader

Mother's Day only comes once a year, but the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council believes these women should be celebrated everyday. Not only do many of our girl scout's mothers volunteer and support our local Council, but many of them are our troop leaders. We asked three girl scouts what they think of their mothers being their troop leader, and here is what they had to say:

Ramsey Ruffeno with mother,Tracy Ruffeno.
Troop 25253

GSSJC: What does your mother do as a troop leader?
RR: She helps make the events and asks for nothing in return.

GSSJC: What do you like about your mom being your troop leader?
RR: She makes it really fun for us. She sets up events and makes them run smooth. She wants us to be one with the community so we do community service and go to museums on field trips. We went to Hobby Airport and that was fun because one of my family members was on a flight crew there.

GSSJC: What is something your mom has taught you and your troop?
RR: She teaches us to be ourselves. We made posters about ourselves and wrote down things we enjoyed and like about ourselves.

GSSJC: What did you put?
RR: I like being a big sister and dancing and cheering. I also love doing community service with my mom and friends.

Photo taken at Camp Casa Mare

Maelynn Roberts with mother, Sarah Roberts.
Troop 19290

GSSJC: What does a troop leader do?
MR: She plans the meeting and makes suere we have everything for the meetings and she makes sure she knows who is coming and makes sure everyone is safe and keeps everyone safe.

GSSJC: What do you like about your mother being your troop leader?
MR: She is fun and creative. Whenever we want to do something creative she always has cool ideas--and she is nice and caring.

GSSJC: What sort of crafts do you do together?
MR: We make a lot of gifts we can give to our family and everyone in our troop and community.

GSSJC: What have you learned from her?
MR: Crafts! I like to do everything. We recently made toys for animals to earn our Bronze Award. We made Tug-o-War ropes and Cat-Nip toys.

GSSJC: How has your mom shown you she cares?
MR:'s not like we get hurt all the time, but when we do she stitches us up and makes us feel better.

Mackenzie Parker with mom, Laura Parker
Troop 19222

GSSJC: What is something you like about your mom being your troop leader?
MP: My mom is really creative, she always has a pep in her step, and whenever we're down she makes us smile and always has a craft up her sleeve.

GSSJC: What is something your mom has taught you?
MP: She teaches me to care about the community. We went Christmas caroling and just had a lot of fun. She shows us how to be caring and encourages us to be kind when we aren't.

GSSJC: What kind of troop leader is your mom?
MP: She is nice and always selfless. She cares about what her girl scouts think and what the parents want.

GSSJC: What's a good memory you have of your mom as your troop leader?
MP: She sprained her ankle at resident camp, but she was still going and volunteered in the kitchen like she normally does. She is always helping us.