Anna Jochum is a troop leader in Southeastern Michigan. When we asked about her most meaningful moment as a troop leader, she shared how she opened her troop's eyes to what it means to be a family.
J joined my troop as a third grade Brownie in the fall of 2015. She goes to a school on the other side of the school district but her mom had a hard time getting ahold of the troop at her school. She found my troop in the Opportunity Catalog [an online listing of troop openings for girls and volunteer opportunities for adults] and came to me instead. I emailed her mom before she came to the first meeting; I was confused because J's age did not line up with that of my other second-graders, and I wanted to make sure she was at the correct troop level. (She was.) I noticed that J called her mom by her first name, but you sometimes see that with stepkids and kids who are just being silly. I didn't know she was a foster child at that point.
Several weeks after J joined the troop, her mom overheard a negative remark that another girl made about foster kids and asked me to meet her for coffee to discuss it. I hadn't heard the comment, and I was horrified. I knew it hadn’t been said out of meanness—just carelessness and a lack of understanding—but that didn't excuse it. We had a long talk about J and her siblings and their status as foster children. J’s mom and I decided to make this a teachable moment for the whole troop instead of singling out the girl who’d made the insensitive comment. We decided to work toward the My Family Story badge to facilitate the conversation.
So I started the next meeting by talking about sisters: half-sisters, stepsisters, sisters-in-law, godsisters, foster sisters, Girl Scout sisters—all kinds of sisters. Then, as a group, we defined each relationship. When we got to foster sisters, I held my breath and asked what it means to be a foster kid. One of the girls, right on cue, answered with the best wrong answer I could have asked for: “That's when you get a kid off the street.”
“No, that would be kidnapping,” I replied, and went on to explain the foster parent-child relationship. I also gave the girls a personal example of a type of sister with no “title”: my half-brothers' half-sister. She isn't technically related to me, but I've known her my whole life and she is part of my family. We went on to talk about what makes a family, be it a blood connection, legal connection, or a closeness that has developed over time. I told the girls that I didn't like family tree assignments because my family looks more like a tumbleweed. Instead, we made family webs at that meeting, like a story web used for brainstorming. (My example for the girls even includes my Girl Scouts and my pets.)
In the weeks to come, my daughter and I became good friends with J and her mom, so I learned more about what was going on in their family. Initially, J and her siblings were temporary fosters, though her mom told me she would’ve adopted them in a heartbeat. In the fall of 2016, J's mom told me that the status had changed and J's birth mother was no longer able to get the kids back. The adoption paperwork was filed immediately.
In February of 2017, the adoption was finalized and J's mom threw a party to celebrate. I was there for the occasion. It was on a day that should have been bitterly cold, but Michigan had a week of extremely warm temperatures so the party moved outdoors. The kids enjoyed every minute of non-winter weather, and everyone was bursting with happiness. It was an honor to be part of that moment, and it's my most cherished memory from my time as a troop leader.