By Cindy Sortisio, Service Unit Manager and Troop Leader
Air miles from Raleigh NC to Salt Lake City Utah: 1827
Number of girls from all over the country who participated in the Girl Scout Leadership Institute: 700
Decibel level on streetcar packed with Girl Scouts all singing camp songs at the tops of their lungs: 75
Number of SWAPS traded at the 2014 GSUSA National Convention: 1 bazillion
Connections made, friendships forged, memories cherished: Infinite
What is this all about? The Girl Scout Leadership Institute!
GSLI is part of the GSUSA National Convention. Each council is invited to send a delegation of girls and adults to participate in leadership seminars and activities organized by the host council. This year, girls were challenged to build on their experiences at the GSLI to carry out “take action” projects in their home communities to spread the impact of GSLI across the country. I was honored and thrilled to be asked to accompany staff member Terrica Hay, Program Director, to chaperone the patrol of girls from Coastal Pines, six girls plus two girl national delegates, from across our council. We were treated to inspirational speakers such as Dr. Tererai Trent (president and founder of her own foundation to address poverty in her native Zimbabwe), Debbie Sterling (CEO and founder of GoldieBlox), Elizabeth Smart (founder of her own foundation and brilliant survivor of childhood abduction), marvelous meals, great entertainment such as a night at the planetarium and a closing dance party, and thought-provoking seminars in which we explored topics such as gender inequality, basic needs, teen violence, healthy relationships, education, body image, and inclusion/diversity.
This was my second national convention. The best part is the phenomenal energy of thousands of girls and women, plus a few good men, coming together, who all feel so passionate about the power and value of Girl Scouting. I get goose-bumps just thinking about it! There is really nothing that can prepare our girls for the powerful experience of entering a convention-sized gathering of like-minded people.
The new GSLI format, with its focus on the girls developing a “take action” project to carry out in their home communities, is a challenging one. To pull together a reasonable project plan in three days, and then go back to one’s every day life to implement it, is a tall order. Terrica and I are staying in contact with the girls to support them in putting their ideas into reality. Their projects will support students challenged by mental illness, sea turtle conservation, and friendships between abled and differently-abled students, among other topics. While the girls were at work on their project proposals, Terrica and I spent some time talking with staff members and volunteers from other councils. We both came away with some good ideas, as well as the sense that Coastal Pines is a strong, well-organized, cohesive council that is doing lots of things very, very well.
My daughter, Mikayla, was one of our council’s national delegates, along with Abigail C.R., so they were able to participate in GSLI when they were not in the convention business sessions. It was so special to share the experience with my daughter, not that I saw much of her as we were always on the go! I like to tell new leaders that everything starts at the Daisy or Brownie level: every tiny field trip, to a fire station or a garden, every little step of girl planning, putting ideas in a wish box, voting with a show of hands, sets the stage for what our girls can strive for and accomplish when they are Seniors and Ambassadors. I have to say that it seems like such a short time ago that we were sewing petals on that blue tunic, and now my girl is working toward her Gold Award and exploring amazing opportunities available to her through Girl Scouting. It is a complete blast being a Girl Scout volunteer! If everyone knew how much fun we have with the girls, we would have a waiting list of adults rather than girls. Who wouldn’t want to do this job?!