Hastings- She's Where She Is Today Because of Girl Scouts

HASTINGS – Stacey Howell said she knows exactly what gave her youngest daughter, Morgan, the confidence to step out of her comfort zone.

“It takes a lot for her to feel comfortable enough to talk to people. Before she joined Girl Scouts she didn’t want to go anywhere or have anybody over,” said Howell who is a troop leader and area manager in Hastings. “Girl Scouts helped her gain confidence. She actually did cheerleading this fall which really surprised me. She wouldn’t be where she’s at today if it wasn’t for Girl Scouts.”

Seeing the powerful impact that Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan had on her daughter, Howell and a fellow leader, Jada Chadwick, are trying to convince other women and men to volunteer their time to lead a troop. Kelly Pino, a membership specialist with GSHOM, said she has a waiting list of girls in the Hastings area who want to join Girl Scouts, but no adults to lead them.

“There are so many girls on that waiting list that I know,” Chadwick said. “I understand that a lot of moms and dads are busy. Maybe they could plan for a couple of hours a month. It’s however you want to meet. People think it’s time-consuming but it’s really not.

A decrease in the number of stay-at-home moms who used to be the majority of troop leaders and an increasing number of two-career couples prompted GSHOM to offer more flexible options for those who want to lead, but are time starved.

“They can meet with a troop once a week or once every other week. They can meet in the evening, after school or on weekends,” Pino said. “Girl Scouts is a year round program so we also have troops that meet in the summer.

“We work with these leaders and give them the tools and support they need to create a fun and educational experience for the girls.”

For those who are passionate about girls having opportunities and learning new things, being a Girl Scout leader may be a way to pursue that, said Lani Forbes, executive director of the Barry County United Way & Volunteer Center. She was a Brownie with a troop in Spring Lake and a Girl Scout with GSHOM legacy councils in Kalamazoo and Jackson.

Working to earn various badges gives girls the opportunity to learn what really interests them, Forbes said. The organization provided her with a way to connect and find some continuity during a childhood where she moved every two years with her family because of her father’s job with Meijer stores.

“There was always a Brownie or Girl Scout troop where I lived,” Forbes said. “When I flew up to be a Cadette there weren’t any troop leaders.”

But, by that time Forbes was already pursuing other interests such as motorcycle riding, sports and drama. She said her father, a store director for Meijer , was very encouraging and always told her she could do anything, including becoming the grocery chain’s first female store director.

She channeled her energy in a different direction. In addition to leading the United Way, she also has been a first responder and firefighter for 15 years with the Freeport Area Volunteer Fire Department where she serves as a lieutenant. Forbes began her formal firefighter training at the age of 39 making her the oldest female and one of only three women in a class of 28.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a male or female, you have to prove yourself with fire service and you have to be able to do the work and work alongside all kinds of people, but that’s no different than anything else in world,” Forbes said. “I believe when you have a passion for something those are things you should follow in your life.”

Forbes said youth programming gives kids the ability to discover a lot of different opportunities and figure out what their passion is. She said she considers youth programming an extension of school which educates kids in a fun and friendly environment.

About 68 percent of the funding to support youth programming in the area comes from the Barry County United Way.

“What you see is a well-rounded child. They’re educated and aware of the community around them. I think being involved in youth programs gives them a leg up on not only getting into college, but also with what they want to do.”

Girl Scouts is among these youth programs, said Chadwick, who was a Girl Scout. She said her daughter Katie, age 10, is learning how to make good moral decisions and judgments because of what she’s learning in Girl Scouts.

“She’s making good choices with her life and following through on those choices,” Chadwick said.