Leadership, Education, and Girl Scouting: Martha Gach
Troop leader, mom, and true STEM rock star Martha Gach from Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts has been unleashing her G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ potential left and right for decades, all while helping girls discover their own G.I.R.L. spirit to make amazing things happen.
Martha is a proud Girl Scout alumna, a seasoned troop leader and service unit manager (she currently serves as her unit’s cookie manager), and an environmental educator with Mass Audubon, a conservation organization with nature sanctuaries throughout the state of Massachusetts. Martha’s journey with Girl Scouts began in 1967 when she joined as a Brownie, with her mother leading her troop.
“I remember wearing that uniform and beanie hat to school so we could have our meeting right after,” she said. “I also remember selling cookies up and down our street, all the dimes spread out on my parents’ bed from the cookie sale, and all the boxes stacked in the house! I had so many great experiences as a Girl Scout. I learned new things, earned badges, explored new places, and made a ton of friends.”
"I had so many great experiences as a Girl Scout. I learned new things, earned badges, explored new places, and made a ton of friends."
In the eighth grade, Martha participated in a Girl Scout Destination, camping out with her fellow Girl Scouts at a Pennsylvania state park to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial. “There were five or six of us—girls from my area who’d trained for months to be able to live in tents for a week without direct adult supervision, cook for ourselves over charcoal every day, and get to where we needed to be on time. It was an amazing experience. I met girls from all over the world, and the experience really formed my opinion of what girls were capable of.”
Martha’s journey as a Girl Scout volunteer and troop leader began in 2001 when her youngest daughter, Margaret, now 21, was in kindergarten. Starting as 10 kindergarten girls (Girl Scout Daisies) meeting in a church basement, Martha’s group grew to about 25 second- through fifth-graders (Brownies and Juniors), and finished with around a dozen eleventh and twelfth graders (Ambassadors). Martha’s eldest daughter, Eva, now 26, was also a Girl Scout.
“The girls did amazing things through the years, planting trees, organizing bicycle safety events, teaching younger girls camping skills, creating a haunted house that became a community tradition—and always feeling like they [led] the program,” Martha recalled. “We always finished each year with a big overnight trip that they planned and practiced for. Through the years I also worked with amazing co-leaders and helpful parents, and made some lifelong friends.”
Connecting People to the Environment—and Her Profession to Girl Scouting
As an environmental educator with Mass Audubon for the past 17 years, Martha works at the biggest urban wildlife sanctuary in New England, where she teaches classes on everything from dragonflies to climate change. She leads bird walks, plants rain gardens and talks to people about why they’re good for the environment, and removes invasive plants to protect wildlife. And she works with all ages, both indoors and out. A given day might find her in front of a class or a TV camera, on her knees studying bees, or leading a group on the trail in search of hummingbirds. Essentially, Martha connects people with nature, so that they’ll ultimately care about and protect it. That’s so Girl Scouts!
Martha has no doubt that her experience as an educator has helped her be a better Girl Scout leader, and vice versa. Leading a troop has helped her speak more comfortably in front of people, learn to guide a group toward a common goal, and take on leadership roles in general. And among other things, her work as an educator has helped Martha appreciate the value of difference—important in Girl Scouting and in life.
“I think being an educator allows me to know that everyone has their own way of working, and of being, and to be tolerant of that and flexible enough to realize that diversity is truly valuable—the individual differences and perspectives everyone brings to the table.”
“I think being an educator allows me to know that everyone has their own way of working, and of being, and to be tolerant of that and flexible enough to realize that diversity is truly valuable."
Citing the Girl Scout Promise and Law as the baseline for her work in education—treating yourself and others with respect; using resources wisely; being courageous, honest, and fair—Martha thinks more educators should volunteer with Girl Scouts. “I think it’s important for anyone to volunteer with Girl Scouts, period. But I do feel educators have an advantage over other professions, including parenting. They have professional training and background in working with groups, including groups of young people, which should make their [volunteer] job a little easier.”
And Martha feels that Girl Scouts’ ready-made programming is fairly easy to implement—it’s even customizable to a troop’s particular needs and interests. “Girl Scouts’ program resources are stepping stones that lead groups into adventures big and small. Leaders are supported by council staff, including through workshops and training opportunities, and by other Girl Scout volunteers in the community. In my town of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, we have a strong group of passionate leaders who support one another.”
"Girl Scouts’ program resources are stepping stones that lead groups into adventures big and small. Leaders are supported by council staff, including through workshops and training opportunities, and by other Girl Scout volunteers in the community."
Not surprisingly, for Martha, Girl Scouting has always been so much more than a classroom experience. She mentioned the freedom (also some frustration!) in helping girls achieve their goals and the benefit of getting to know the community and become part of it at the same time, which, to Martha, has always felt like a huge gift. And there’s more.
“Girl Scouting stretches you. You’ll find yourself doing things you’d never imagined, because the girls want to go zip-lining down a mountainside or explore out-of-the-way shops because they need a place to warm up on a rainy camping trip. [You might help them] make kooky Christmas ornaments you’ll treasure for years, do science experiments with minimal equipment in the church basement, work up the courage to take their first kayaking trip. Life is so much richer with Girl Scouting!”
“Girl Scouting stretches you. You’ll find yourself doing things you’d never imagined."
Beyond all the adventure, life lessons and lifelong friendships, and great memories, Martha thinks Girl Scouts is important because girls need a place to be girls—to develop to their full potential, including through building strong leadership skills, without the social pressures that can come from being around boys. In Girl Scouts, girls have the freedom to be silly, to be strong and speak their minds, and to experiment with decision making and taking responsibility for their choices. They develop the self-confidence to grow into effective, courageous, and responsible adults. And to those who say they want girls to learn to build fires and all of the other ‘rough and tumble’ things that boys stereotypically do, Martha says they just haven’t found the right leader yet—or volunteered to be that leader. Take the lead like a Girl Scout, anyone?
“This last summer my younger daughter, Margaret, ended up working at a residential non–Girl Scout camp,” Martha shared. “She was astounded by all that the other counselors felt they needed to do for the girls, and that the counselors themselves lacked basic outdoor skills. So Margaret promptly taught the entire camp staff how to build and light a campfire, and set the expectation that every camper should be taught that skill. I was so proud that her Girl Scout training kicked in!”
Thank you, Martha, for everything you’ve done and continue to do to help ensure more girls are prepared to embark on a lifetime of leadership, adventure, and success—you are, to put it simply, extraordinary.
Learn more about what it means to get involved with Girl Scouts as an adult volunteer, and sign up today!