Why Volunteering Matters

Here's what four young women with different backgrounds and experiences bring to Girl Scouts, and what they get in return.

Photo of Nichole Ederer. (Photographer: Liz Kiefer)Nichole Ederer

In less than a year, 19-year-old Nichole Ederer, a sophomore at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, has tasted the full, rich range of the Girl Scout volunteer's smorgasbord. She's helped Brownie Girl Scouts read and write and Junior Girl Scouts play basketball and run track. Then she organized monthly STUDIO 2BSM workshops on fitness and personal safety.

Her smorgasbord favorite? "Those fifth and sixth graders really got to me with their enthusiasm and openness. They'd call out 'Miss Nichole, Miss Nichole,' and that made me feel really wanted," she said.

Nichole began volunteering for the Girl Scouts last year when a leadership class required community service hours. She chose Girl Scouts because of her own fond memories and the fact that her sorority, Kappa Delta, partners with the Girl Scouts. When Nichole discovered where she was most needed—at inner city areas with at-risk children—she "embraced the opportunity" reported Lisette Gonzalez, community-based services manager at Girl Scouts of Citrus Council.

Her age proved a plus, especially when advising the girls in STUDIO 2B. "I'm only a few years older than some of the girls so they felt comfortable talking to me about home situations, like divorced parents," she explained. And because one of the Kappa Delta programs included a tour of the campus and the sorority house, the girls got to see what it's like to go to college. Said Nichole, "They look up to us. And once they know us and see how we live, they can begin to envision doing the same things themselves."

Her involvement over the last year took Nichole from engaging with younger girls to the administrative tasks involved in organizing STUDIO 2B workshops. Has she had enough? Apparently not. She signed on as Girl Scout chairperson for her Kappa Delta chapter next year.

Photo of Stacey Richards. (Photographer: JimMcGuirePhoto)Stacey Richards

Twenty-nine-year-old Stacey Richards of Charlotte, North Carolina (Girl Scouts, Hornets' Nest Council) is another enthusiastic volunteer. Presently, Stacey is at work full-time on a master's degree in public administration. She holds two part-time jobs and is active in her church where, for two years, she led an energetic Brownie Girl Scout troop. Three years ago, however, Stacey traded in the Brownie Girl Scout troop for a group of girls ages 12 to 17.

Why did Stacey—a Girl Scout herself from ages 7 to 10—move to the ranks of teen advisor? "Because the teen years are the most crucial in a girl's life," she explained. "I want to make sure these girls get the chance to do things like white-water rafting, horseback riding, camping, and traveling. I don't want to lose these girls to ignorance, low self-esteem, peer pressure, or just not being wanted.

With her direct approach, Stacey and her two co-leaders, both young, single working women, give the girls a frank, open forum to address the sensitive issues teens face. They invite guest speakers for topics such as HIV, nutrition, sexuality, and personal relationships—with the approval of parents and guardians.

And, they learn what Stacey feels is the most important lesson of all: gaining perspective on life. The girls volunteer at races for breast cancer cures, entertain homeless children at a shelter, and work with abused teens. "They begin to realize that their own home situations aren't so bad," explained Stacey, "and that helping others is a balm."

Photo of Rachel Peterson. (Photographer: Living Moments)Rachel Peterson

When Rachel Peterson signed on as a Girl Scout advisor in Seattle two years ago, her goal was to gain experience so she could apply to a master's degree program in teaching. What she got was a lot more.
"Working with this troop has changed my life," said Rachel, 27. Girl Scout Troop 8401 (Girl Scouts-Totem Council,) is composed of girls, ages 12 to 18, in foster care and is part of the council's "Fostering a Future" program.

"Helping these girls to be strong, conscientious, powerful women has reminded me to bring these values into my own life," said Rachel. In reality, there's not much of a gap between age 27 and age 17."

Along with her two co-advisors, ages 24 and 25, Rachel encourages the girls to do things they might not otherwise attempt. "I happen to be an avid backpacker. It's a specific skill I can share with these girls whose home situations encourage a lot of time in front of the TV."

During the last school break when many of their classmates went on their usual family vacations, Troop 8401 set off on its own adventure: an overnight snowshoeing and sledding trip. Rachel remembers one girl saying, on the way home, "This was the best day of my whole life." Back at school, members of Troop 8401 (also self-dubbed "The Angel Troop") could share exhilarating adventure stories—and not just listen to those luckier than themselves.

When Rachel leaves her property management job early every Tuesday, she's smiles—not because she left work early, but because she knows there's a roomful of teenage girls waiting. "I've learned a lot about myself," Rachel added, "I know I want to be a foster parent and I know that Girl Scouting will always be part of my life."

Photo of Sapreet Saluja. (Photographer: Susan San Giovanni)Sapreet Saluja

When her parents insisted 13-year-old Sapreet Saluja join Girl Scouts in West Windsor, New Jersey 14 years ago (Delaware-Raritan Girl Scout Council), little could she imagine the impact it would have on her life. "I entered Girl Scouts at a time most girls leave," she said. "And today I'm absolutely convinced that Girl Scouts has even more to give girls in their teens than at any other age. It's a time when girls are getting a feel for the world and their place in it."

So what transformed a grudging teen into an ardent proponent? Opportunities…lots of them, said Sapreet who attended two national wider opportunities (now know as STUDIO 2B destinations) and one international event in New Zealand. She was the first girl delegate from her council to a Girl Scout national convention and receive a scholarship through Girl Scouts. "I trace much of my current interest in international affairs and business to the day I signed my passport for travel with the Girl Scouts."

Today, as a young adult volunteer, Sapreet, 27, passionately carries that message to the girls. When she addressed constituents at the 2002 National Council Meeting about her Peace Corps experiences in Africa, she emphasized the Girl Scout road that got her there. After accepting a job in San Francisco in 2001, she called the Girl Scouts of San Francisco Bay Area in Oakland, California; she was soon active on the then wider opportunities committee. She has since relocated to New York City where she currently works for a national retailer. Sapreet finds the location convenient to the headquarters of the Girl Scout where she uses her expertise as a member of the National Advisory Group on Developing Volunteer and Leadership Opportunities for Young Women 18 to 25.

"I think most people want to give back to the community," said Sapreet. "I chose to volunteer for Girl Scouts because I feel strongly about it and it's flexible enough to fit my lifestyle."

Adapted from LEADER, Fall 2004. © Girl Scouts of the United States of America.