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From Theory to Action: New Ways Training Works for Volunteers
By Lisa Dewey
Illustrations by Diane Allison
Camping remains, even today, one of girls' favorite Girl Scout activities. With good reason: it's fun! And through outdoor experiences, girls get firsthand opportunities to work as a team, gain a sense of independence, set goals, make decisions, and develop new skills and confidence—all while building a fire, taking a hike, working on a conservation project, or cooking with a vagabond stove.
But for many volunteers, taking a traditional outdoor training that may consist of two or more separate sessions is often off-putting due to the time involved, including travel time. Additionally, it takes away leaders' availability for their girls.
Lori has two young children, helps run the family business, and lives roughly two hours away from Girl Scouts of Kaw Valley Council headquarters. Scheduling two trips to training, without her girls, was not going to happen anytime soon.
Lori is one of the reasons the council created Troop Camp with a Twist. Held at Camp Daisy Hindman from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon, untrained volunteers come with their troops or groups. The adults go off to get basic outdoor skills, while camp staff take the girls to participate in camp activities like swimming and horseback riding.
By dinnertime on Saturday, the leaders have finished their formal training and are ready to apply what they've learned. They are rejoined with their girls to lead them in building a fire and cooking supper. It all happens under the watchful eyes of the volunteer trainers, who are there to answer questions and mentor the leaders.
"It's an intense weekend, but we are getting great feedback from volunteers who simply couldn't find the time to participate in our traditional outdoor training," said Sally, the council's Volunteer Services manager. "Now, by after breakfast on Sunday, the leaders are trained, the girls have had a good time—and exposure to camp—and everyone leaves happy."
But from a trainer's perspective, does it really work? Sally admits that some volunteer trainers, upon hearing of the redesign, had their doubts.
One of them was Marilyn, a dedicated 20-year volunteer who has spent 15 years as a trainer. Marilyn was concerned that the leaders would not get thorough enough information, particularly regarding safety.
What she found after leading her first Troop Camp with a Twist were two big advantages: it's based on a need-to-know model versus being exhaustive with details. And by shadowing the leaders as they worked with their girls, the trainers were right there to help, reducing the stress that some feel leading their first overnight.
That was Mary's experience, too. Mary is a Junior Girl Scout troop leader in Topeka who's been with her girls since they were Daisy Girl Scouts. "The trainers were very supportive. I didn't feel overwhelmed by too much information, and I learned where to find things, what resources I could use later. It especially gave me confidence to have the trainer there to make sure I was showing the girls in all the right ways," Mary said.
"Leaders are finding out that camping's not that bad," said Marilyn. "And that means girls will benefit. If we want the Movement to grow, adults need to be involved, so we've got to adapt."
Adapted from LEADER, Summer 2005. © Girl Scouts of the United States of America.