The girls in Girl Scout Troop 10878 at Riverbend Elementary will soon be moving on to middle school. But their garden at Riverbend, which earned them a recognition from the Girl Scouts organization, will stay there for future students to enjoy — a goal the girls had when they started the project almost two years ago.
In late 2016, the girls decided they wanted to help their own community at school. They talked to their principal, teachers, parents and students about the community’s needs, then put a plan into action. They decided to transform an area behind the school into a garden where classes could meet and read, students could display their artwork and friends could talk in the shade.
“We have transformed a place that was just desolate-looking with woods and a shed into a beautiful outdoor garden that the school has been very pleased to use,” said Nita Baker, the troop leader who is a media specialist at the school.
The girls’ efforts culminated in them earning a Bronze Award last month. That is the highest honor for Juniors, their level of scouting.
The girls in Troop 10878 are rising sixth-graders and will start at North Hall Middle School in the fall, when they will move up in rank as Cadet scouts and join some of the girls who helped establish the garden. Baker will follow them there. She said the troop at Riverbend does not have a leader for next year, and she hopes someone volunteers for the position so girls at the school can join.
“I didn’t want to take new girls and then leave them at the end of the year with nobody,” Baker said. “I know that there are a lot of working parents now so moms aren’t as free to do this, but there are a lot of people who are retired or semi-retired who were Girl Scouts and know how important the Girl Scout program is for girls.”
One of the troop’s co-leaders, Cheryl Harms, a teacher at the school, is retiring. The troop’s other co-leader, Linda Sloyer, will stay at Riverbend to help with the garden, which will be used by science classes next academic year. Sloyer is a master gardener and taught the Scouts about gardening throughout the project.
Misty Irvin, Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia’s director of membership for Athens, Macon and Gainesville, said troop leaders do not need to have a daughter in the troop to be involved, and all training is provided. Leaders would be responsible for attending meetings once a week or every two weeks for an hour or two, she said.
The girls in the troop said the experience has been valuable. They have gone camping, visited Savannah, and sewed and filled stockings for soldiers as just a few of the activities they have done since the troop formed about six years ago
Rebekah Halstead, one of the Scouts, said the troop has helped her make friends and have new experiences with the group.
“When we went to Savannah, we had a lot of fun experiences together,” she said. “We got to be together without the pressure of school or Milestones (standardized testing) and we forgot about all that. ... It brought us closer.”
Emma Baker, another Scout and Nita Baker’s granddaughter, said Scouting has taught her teamwork and responsibility.
“We can rely on each other and work together as a team,” she said.
Evelyn Crow said Scouting has taught her about time management and project planning, skills she said have made her more successful in school, too.
“The biggest thing I learned was how to plan something out, and how to plan it so you can do it well,” she said.
Madilyn Dye said she has enjoyed giving back to the community, especially with the garden, by providing her peers with “something to enjoy.” Even though the troop is moving on to middle school, the garden will be there to stay and future generations of students can build on what they started.
“I don’t think anyone is going to stop making it better ... even though we’re not going to be here, a lot of people are still going to change it,” she said.
Giving back is emphasized; the girls researched charities and each donated $50 on behalf of the troop. Some of the proceeds from their annual cookie sales are set aside for community service projects.
Cheryl Harms said the cookie sales teach the girls valuable lessons they can apply in the future.
“It wasn’t just making money,” Harms said. “They had a lot of good skills that they learned through it: entrepreneurship, learning all about sales and speaking with people.”
Cookie sales are designed to teach the girls about setting goals, decision-making, money management, interacting with people and business ethics, Baker said.
The troop’s three leaders were all Girl Scouts themselves. Sloyer said girls now have more opportunities than she did when she was a Girl Scout, but the fundamental mission of the organization is still the same, and girls still benefit from joining.
“The idea of taking young girls and women and building confidence in them has not changed,” Sloyer said. “It’s still the same great organization today.”
Baker, who was in the same troop as Sloyer in Gainesville, said Scouting was one of the only activities available to girls when she was a Scout in the 1950s. Now, girls have other opportunities, but the Scouts in her troop have remained dedicated despite their other time commitments, she said.
“Gainesville had a huge Girl Scout presence back then, because girls didn’t have as many other things to do,” Baker said. “Now they have all the sports teams and art camps and so many more opportunities.
“Girl Scouts was it for girls back then.”
Irvin, of Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, said the organization is adapting to the modern age. Girls can now study coding, robotics and other STEM fields as part of their Scouting activities. Troops are girl-led, so the girls get to decide what activities they want to do or what badges they want to earn. There are about 500 Girl Scouts in Hall County, Irvin said, and numbers have been increasing.
“The experience for each girl is really individualized in the troop because they have the choice to lead their own experience,” Irvin said. “Not only are they able to make the decisions and forge their own path as far as what they’re learning, they’re able to work together as a troop to make those decisions.”
However, Irvin said one change Girl Scouts isn’t planning to make is going co-ed. Boy Scouts of America will soon be welcoming girls into the organization, although they will have their own troops. Girl Scouts wants to cater to girls and their specific needs, Irvin said.
“When you have an all-girl environment, a lot of times, we’ve learned that it builds confidence in girls and makes them feel more comfortable,” Irvin said.
Families can get their daughters involved by going to gshg.org and finding a troop in the area.