Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Golden Link: Girl Scouts with special needs celebrate 40 years of friendship at the Center

Did you receive the latest copy of The Golden Link? This magazine, published five times per year, is mailed to every registered member of the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council and is packed with news, updates, upcoming program activities, trainings and more. This month, one of our featured stories celebrates a long-standing troop unlike any other. Read the story below, and get a copy of The Golden Link Dec/Jan/Feb 2016-2017 issue online or at a GSSJC facility for more stories like this one.

Girl Scouts with special needs celebrate 40 years of friendship at the Center

Five years ago, 11 volunteers with extraordinary grace came to the aide of 11 Girl Scouts with exceptionalities. Troop 21, whose members range in age from late 20s to early 50s, now has 25 members and has become a special part of Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council’s (GSSJC) community. Though they don’t look like your average Girl Scout troop, the group has demonstrated how Girl Scouts can continue to help girls through every stage of life. 
First formed in 1976, the troop is based out of The Center, a not-for-profit agency serving persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities, and was led by recently passed GSSJC volunteer Charlotte Sewell. Charlotte retired from leading the troop five years ago. Her daughter, Cathy, 48, was a teenager when she first joined the troop and is still one of two original Girl Scouts with the troop today. 

“Friends, cookies…fun,” Cathy said with a smile when she was asked what it means to be a Girl Scout. Mona Cross, the second of the two original troop members additionally shared that when she is at Girl Scouts she feels happy because she is with her friends. “I’ve been a Girl Scout for a long time!” said Mona. “Me and Cathy–my friend, Cathy–learned when you talk you have to speak nice.” 

Troop meetings for Girl Scouts in Troop 21 are always special occasions. Many of the Girl Scouts live at different assisted living centers, so when it was thought the troop would come to an end with their founding leader’s retirement, GSSJC volunteers rallied local news stations in hopes of saving it. Within two days, GSSJC received 78 inquiries and from there narrowed the number of volunteers down to 11. 

Carol Wiggs, Troop 21’s current troop leader, was one of the first volunteers to respond after seeing the story broadcasted. As a women’s health practitioner, Carol was selected to lead the troop, along with Tina Sabuco, Shellye Arnold, Rita McMahon, Nancy Abercrombie and Rebecca Wiener. 

“Being a nurse, I’ve always had fond feelings for women with special needs and vulnerabilities,” said Carol. “It was a small troop when we took over, but we came in with the idea that even though they’re older we wanted to do as many Girl Scout related things with them as possible.” 

Once a month, the troop gathers at The Center for a themed meeting that usually consists of singing songs, arts and crafts and always ends with snack time. “They’re just people,” said Sabuco. “Most of them can be described as slow learners to very autistic but with any group of girls you have cliques and disputes. Talking to them about how to get along and be a friend is what we try to focus on.” 

Two years after the relaunch of Troop 21, the surrounding community again came to Troop 21’s aide to raise money for their yearly events and activities. Until then, most of the troop’s expenses were paid out of the leader’s pockets after coming up negative their first attempt at the Girl Scout Cookie Program. “The girls basically ate all the cookies,” said Carol. But that was when the leaders came up with the idea of baking and selling pastries of their own during an annual bake sale in the community of Garden Oaks. 

The first year Troop 21 raised $900. The sale only grew from there, and with the support of Daisy Troop 122017, this year they raised an amazing $1,900. “They love it!” said Arnold. “They absolutely love it. It’s become something they look forward to and the interaction with other people has become a great learning experience for them.” 

With the funding from the bake sale, the troop is able to go on field trips, buy holiday gifts and supplies for their troop meetings. During their last troop meeting, the girls made paper dolls in their image to show that Girl Scouts come in all packages. When the girls were done making their dolls, troop leaders placed Velcro on the dolls hands and connected them together forming a circle of friendship. In mirror image of their creations, the Girl Scouts of Troop 21 took hands to form a circle and ended the meeting singing “Make New Friends.” 

This story is dedicated to the memory of Charlotte Sewell, founder and co-leader.