What brings you joy? That was the prompt when my daughter and I entered the "Share Your YAY!" Girl Scout Sweepstakes on Instagram to win a year’s supply of Girl Scout Cookies. I quickly crafted “Future Girl Scout” and “Future Girl Scout Mom” shirts, along with Girl Scout Cookie hair bows for Harper. I was sure we would win. We didn’t, but we did get a message from our local council asking if I’d be interested in leading a mentored troop because of our visible excitement for Girl Scouts. I hadn’t previously considered it, but in that moment, I knew it was something I had to do.
Who is Paulette Bonneur? For starters, I’m a woman, like many others, trying to find her place in this thing called life. I’m a mom, daughter, wife, educator, author, small business owner, friend, aspiring keynote speaker, and so much more. I’m a director of student life at a local community college, and I’ve dedicated over a decade to working in higher education. Throughout my career, I have dreamed of having a mentor who cared about my personal and professional growth.
Since I never had that fortune, I decided to do something about it for girls I knew could use my support. It’s important for young girls to see themselves represented in leadership. Mentored troops provide girls of color the opportunity to be part of ethnically diverse Girl Scout troops led by volunteer troop leaders of color. This structure offers council support and mentorship for volunteers during their first year, as well as financial assistance for the girls who participate. It’s a great way to encourage diversity throughout the Girl Scout organization.
Here are three things we focus on in my troop to do just that.
Make a positive impact on girls
Have you ever noticed that everywhere you turn there is inconsistent messaging telling girls who and what someone else thinks they should be? Not on my watch. My amazing co-leader and I always aim to lead with impact. How will our time together leave an impression on the girls? They don’t care about having perfect leaders. They need positive influences from caring adults.
During one meeting we did a fun activity that showed the importance of filling our buckets with positive affirmations. While filling buckets, we talked about how even adults need their buckets filled, too. It was a vulnerable moment that helped the girls understand that we all play a role in helping others feel valued. When girls turn words into action, they become women who change the world.
Help girls discover their true selves
Who runs the world, you ask? Girls, of course! We all know this, but when Beyoncé made it a catchy anthem we sang at the top of our lungs and danced to the beat. How do we encourage women to be their authentic selves in an ever-evolving world? We inspire them to love who they are, as they are, and positively affirm them when they show up as their whole selves.
Encouraging each individual girl in the troop, especially when you sometimes only have a few hours to spend with them as a collective, can be tricky. No matter how little time you have—when you pay attention, the girls leave clues.
I remember at the end of one meeting we were cleaning up and a mom gave her daughter a cell phone to keep her busy. When we looked up, our daughters were in their own world having a blast singing and dancing around the room using the cell phone to power Kidz Bop. Since we were trying to leave, the easy thing to do would have been to tell the girls to turn the music off and help clean so we could get going. We didn’t.
They sang, they danced, and I learned something new about one of our Girl Scout Daisies. Although she’s sometimes shy during meetings, expression through music is her jam. It was a good note to incorporate more free time fun into upcoming meetings. Our girls are preparing to conquer the world and I’m here for all of it.
Show girls how to lead with confidence
I’m also here for quotes from former First Lady Michelle Obama. Sometimes I question my leadership: Am I making an impact? Am I helping girls discover their true selves? Am I helping the girls grow into confident leaders? I often reflect on this quote by Mrs. Obama: “Whether you come from a council estate or a country estate, your success will be determined by your fortitude.”
In her book Becoming, she notes some of the difficulties she faced as an African American woman with the world watching and criticizing her every move. Did she fold? No. She rose to the occasion. That’s why I show up every time, no matter what. It’s not about me or my fears of not getting it right. I don’t have to be perfect for the world because I am the perfect leader for my girls.
At our October meeting, we had a field trip planned at two locations with many moving parts. I forgot the most important supply for robot making—aluminum foil. Instead of wallowing, I was able to show our girls how to persevere with confidence even if things don’t go as planned. When they were asked to present their robot and its functionality in front of the group, half the girls did it without a problem. The other half, however, were not comfortable presenting. Instead of letting it go, we had the girls present from their seats and their troop sisters cheered them on just the same. Confidence can be learned and nurtured. We are guiding our next generation of confident leaders, and that is something that makes me oh so proud.
If life, and more recently the painful reality of the pandemic, has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t get apples if you don’t plant the apple tree. Girls need us. They need women who care about their growth and success. They need women they trust to tell them that they’re beautiful or give them a hug to affirm them without words. Women who let them know that it’s okay not to be perfect and prioritizing their mental health is a brave thing to do.
Volunteering is important to me because I want to be alive to see the fruits of my labor and make an impact in my community locally, nationally, and globally. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of women supporting girls. My hope is after reading this, you’ll get a sense of why I feel like I won way more than a year’s supply of cookies could have ever given me.
Ladies, listen up: girls need you. The question is whether you will choose to answer the call. What are you waiting for? The time is now.
Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys offers families the option to join or start troops that center the unique experiences of BIPOC girls (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) through a troop option it calls “Mentored Troops.”
Mentored Troops provide a space for BIPOC girls to find community as they experience all that Girl Scouts has to offer as they develop a sense of belonging and sisterhood with their troop. Troops are led by BIPOC volunteers who receive start-up funds, cohort training, and a year of culturally relevant and responsive mentoring by council staff to ensure the troop gets off to a great start on their Girl Scout journey.