Scouting offers a helping hand to girls

Troopers: A joint Girl Scout-social services pilot program aims to give more girls the opportunity to participate.

January 10, 1999|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN STAFF

The Girl Scouts of Central Maryland and the Carroll County Department of Social Services have launched a pilot program designed to help more low-income families take part in Scouting.

The program is the first in the state between a government agency and the Girl Scouts, which is funding the partnership. The program pays for initiation fees, weekly dues, uniforms and field trips for any child referred by social services. Many of the children are in the department's Family Learning Together program.

"We are not just about protective services," said Thomas Blackwell, social services administrator. "We are also part of the community and we want to give these children an opportunity they might not have gotten otherwise."

The troop is led by Dierdra Frierson, an outreach leader for Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, and meets weekly at the Westminster United Methodist Church on Main Street.

"We are organizing educational activities, math- and science-based, and hoping for a summer camp," said Elaine Novotny, Girl Scout membership specialist. "We want these girls to have all the Scouting experiences."

So far, Novotny has enrolled about 10 girls, from 5 to 13 years old. The troop could have twice the number, if parents volunteer. Novotny has been coming to the meetings, but is taking a back seat, spending the hour talking to parents. Her 5-year-old daughter, Alexis, joins right in, though.

Parents and siblings are encouraged to attend the hour-long sessions, which will continue year-round. The troop welcomes all ages. Scouts are usually divided into age-based groups, such as Daisies and Brownies.

"This is not a traditional troop," said Novotny. "We want to put Juniors in leadership positions to help with the younger girls."

Many of the families walk to the church and stay to observe or help with the children's projects. Organizers are making plans for a Boy Scout troop.

At a recent meeting, Denise Roberts worked on a craft with her 13-year-old daughter, Michelle Collins. Her two young sons, whose only complaint was "too many girls here," did homework at a desk nearby.

"We make a night of this and go out for pizza after," Roberts said.

Michelle enjoys her position as oldest member of the new troop.

"I like being the oldest and helping the younger kids," Michelle said. "It is fun being with people and meeting new people."

She started a lively game with 20 buttons and dice.

"You toss the dice and get rid of as many buttons as the dice say. The first one without buttons wins," she said.

When 6-year-old Samantha Smith won, she hugged Michelle. After several meetings, the button game is the favorite.

"There is not much a single mom with four kids can afford to do [in Westminster]," Roberts said. "Here Michelle can get out and get attention from someone else. She already is looking forward to sleepovers and field trips."

A half-hour ride from Taneytown is worth the time for Lisa Smith and her daughter, Samantha.

"At home, Samantha would be sitting in front of the TV," Smith said. "Here she is learning, socializing and building up her confidence."

Smith often brings her two toddlers and a 7-year-old neighbor, Kayta Gonzalez. When Smith's car broke down after a meeting last month, Novotny drove them all to Smith's sister's home. That showed caring and commitment, Smith said.

"This gives Samantha something to do," Smith said. "At home, there are a lot of older kids hanging out on the street, getting into trouble. She likes coming here to meetings and making new friends."

A single mother on a limited budget would often have to forgo Scouting, Smith said.

"The program waives initiation fees and dues for the low-income and disadvantaged," Blackwell said. "It is a no-brainer for us. A partnership with the Girl Scouts is a true positive.

"This is an opportunity these kids may never have gotten," he said. "When I heard about it, I said, `Let's get the girls and let's get moving on this.' "

Every meeting ends with the traditional circle, where members join hands and make a silent wish. Kayta could not resist sharing her wish with everyone.

"I wish I could come to Girl Scouts every day," Kayta said.

Pub Date: 1/10/99

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