At the Mall Sleep-In, Girl Scouts sleep very little


March 09, 2007|By Janet Gilbert

One big cliche about girls and the mall walked the plank last week, thanks to the pirate-themed 23rd Annual Girl Scouts' Columbia Mall Sleep-In.

More than 2,000 Girl Scouts and 850 parent volunteers showed up at 10:30 p.m. Saturday at The Mall in Columbia and stayed until 5 a.m. - not to shop, but to feed the hungry, foster friendships, mentor and earn badges. The girls were encouraged to take canned goods to benefit Harvest for the Hungry, the largest food drive in Maryland. The statewide campaign started March 2.

According to Sally Hosford, program chairwoman for the Mall Sleep-In, the Girl Scouts collected 4,140 pounds of food for the Maryland Food Bank.

Standing in line in the windy chill outside the Lord & Taylor entrance, the crowd vibrated with the kind of energy that could power Howard County for months. In a figurative way, it does. In a growing community in which redistricting sometimes separates friends, Girl Scouting remains a constant; promoting values that unite girls of different ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Patricia Pines, leader of Ellicott City Troop 344, explained why her troop decided to attend. "We had to think, was this the year?" she said. "There's a fine line between when we felt the girls were old enough to stay up all night, and the mothers were not too old to do it."

Most of the junior Scouts - fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders - sported pirate gear. As they approached the doors to be checked in, they were thrilled to see many of the senior Girl Scouts, or Cadettes, who would be working the extravaganza in full pirate regalia.

One of them was Louise Stewart, 17, who attends Mount Hebron High School. Stewart, who was collecting food, said that she would be working the "Appreciation Station" later, where girls come to write thank-you cards to their leaders and volunteers.

"I've been in this a long time," said Stewart, who has been coming to the event for three years as a participant and six as a volunteer. "I really like working with the kids, helping them find materials and think of ideas."

Two younger volunteers were helping her - Alicia Carroll, 12, from Bonnie Branch Middle School, and Ashley Spencer, 13, from Wilde Lake Middle School.

Alicia said she enjoys making her Halloween costumes, and that she would be using her talents later at a booth helping Girl Scouts earn sewing badges. "I get to do something I like to do. I'm so excited," she said. "But it can be kind of hard staying up all night working here. Nobody really goes to sleep."

Said Ashley: "I like meeting and talking to people here. I have lots to say - it's cool that people listen to me."

Her words are echoed throughout the night; attention from an older girl can form the foundation of a mentor relationship. Hammond High School's Erica Szalkowski, 17, was dressed as a "pirate fairy" while she worked a table creating "swaps" - commemorative pins that Girl Scouts trade. "I remember how good it felt to get the attention of the cooler, older girls," said Szalkowski.

"I remember looking up to them," added her friend, Stephanie Korenic, 17, from Hammond. "They were taller, so pretty and responsible; they carried themselves so well. I idolized them."

Korenic came directly from a band performance of Hammond's musical to work at the event. "It's my last year [as a volunteer], and I got really nostalgic," she said. "I didn't want to miss this."

It is not easy to describe what this is. The 1960s word, happening, comes to mind.

On the upper level of the mall, Junior Girl Scouts from Howard and Carroll counties and their leaders were assigned a "home base," where they laid out the sleeping bags they likely would never sleep in. Downstairs, more than 50 arts-and-crafts stations were staffed by senior Girl Scouts and leaders; the younger girls roamed freely and participated in everything from making bookmarks to tissue flowers. Some of the finished crafts become an element of other community service projects. For example, the tissue flowers are used to decorate hospital IV poles.

"Of course, some girls never make it past the food court," said Hosford. Several vendors remained open, and as the night wore on, long lines developed at Boardwalk Fries, Cinnabon and Wockenfuss Candies.

No wonder the girls don't sleep.

Throughout the night, the Scouts also can work toward earning merit badges in disciplines such as aerospace, pet care and mathematics. Each time they complete an activity, a senior Scout or leader marks it off in the "guidebook" the girls wear around their necks.

Becky Devlin, 17, from Long Reach High School, worked the "aluminum tooling" station with her friends from Troop 475, Michele Johnson, 17, and Lindsey Comer, 18, both from Howard High School. All three were happy with this year's assignment: They recalled signing up to work at the karaoke station in one of their early years.

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