Editor’s Note: Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida alum and Adult Troop 305 member Sheila Shapiro originally delivered this speech at GSTF’s Adult Summer Summit on August 26, 2023.
Certainly, the role of the leader is to create and to provide opportunities for girls to learn skills and show competencies in a wide variety of activities. You, the volunteer leaders, are respected for your roles in your family and community; you are needed by the youth of your community; and you are valued for your commitment of time, energy, and creativity for the Girl Scout organization! Your scouts need to feel the same way– that they are needed by their communities; that they are respected for what they do and show; and that they are valued for their creativity and ideas, shared among their peers, their adult leaders, parents, and mentors.
Look deeper, get to know the girls and their strengths, and provide them opportunities for life-changing experiences that they might not otherwise receive, memories, and role modeling for a life-time of successes. Meaningful leadership is more than just directing and managing a troop. Meaningful leadership inspires and empowers. It embraces vision, empathy, integrity, and inclusivity. Meaningful leadership includes choosing the right moments and knowing the girls’ levels of readiness, levels of maturity, levels of receptivity, and levels of commitment.
Your meaningful leadership instills courage.
Your meaningful leadership instills confidence.
Your meaningful leadership instills character.
Now, imagine, if you will, a fifth grade Girl Scout, being called upon to speak in front of a church congregation to inform the members how their facilities were being used every week for a local troop’s activities; then, imagine a woman, years later, speaking in front of members of a school board about a curriculum project which needed their support and attention.
Imagine, if you will, a seventh grade Girl Scout earning a badge in party planning (yes, there was one like that!) - making up a budget; consulting calendars for appropriate dates; creating invitations with all the important information; and listing needs for games, food, and paper goods. Then, imagine a woman, years later, planning graduation receptions for hundreds of students, parents, and family members, with budgets, invitations, programs, and all the other details.
Imagine, if you will, a ninth grade Girl Scout being encouraged to apply for and being selected to attend a national conference on women’s roles in society in 1964, the era of Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem and women’s liberation, hearing the Girl Scout national president issuing a call to girls and women to expand their horizons and their goals. Then, imagine a woman, years later, called upon to represent an entire school district at national conferences on educational leadership.
Imagine, if you will, a tenth grade Girl Scout chosen to interview a prominent community person for a pre-conference assignment on the role of women. Then, imagine a woman, years later, being called upon to interview prospective teachers and administrators on behalf of a school district.
Imagine, if you will, an eleventh grade Girl Scout, being given the opportunity to apply for and being selected to attend the International Roundup of 1965, with thousands of girls from around the world, hearing national and international adult leaders encouraging Scouts with the Roundup theme: “Look Wider Still” – to look beyond what they have done in the past and to envision what they could be in the future. Then imagine a woman, years later, becoming a teacher, then a department chair, then a principal, and then a director of a school district language program, mentoring and supervising hundreds of other teachers.
Imagine, if you will, a 12th grade, Senior Girl Scout, presiding over a Senior Scout planning board of girls from all over the local Council to advise leaders and Girl Scout administrators on programs and activities. Then, imagine a woman, years later, serving as president of a township citizens and police organization for the youth of the community, with one of the responsibilities being to plan and to execute an annual 24-hour relay to raise money for community needs.
Who is that girl, and who is that woman you were asked to imagine? I am that girl; I am that woman.
I have always been grateful for having been mentored by the same outstanding volunteer Girl Scout leader for 12 years. That leader was Mrs. Martha Vickers, affectionately known as “Mrs. V,” a wife, a mother of five, and a role model of strong family and community values and good character. There is no doubt that her meaningful leadership made a difference in the lives of her Scouts, who made it all the way through from 1st to 12th grade and are still having reunions over the years – the last one being a recent 50th high school reunion. Her two daughters and many former Scouts attended that reunion, singing and telling stories of our beloved Mrs. V.
As I look back on the wonderful trips with my troop over those 12 years, the confidence I gained from those trips opened the door to international travel in my adult years, both with family and on my own.
As I think about all my other experiences, I understand now, so many years later – how the values instilled in me through Girl Scout opportunities helped shape my life and how those same values were reinforced at home by my parents. My mother was also a Girl Scout leader who participated in my troop activities and became a leader for my younger sister’s troop. My mother and her troop developed a puppetry project – using Scout-made stages, puppets, and scripts that were enjoyed by other troops, students, and residents of nursing homes throughout the county. The girls learned creative, alternative communication skills through the use of puppets. My father was a true “Girl Scout dad” who helped us build camping boxes, taught us basic skills of carpentry and household repairs, and ferried us across Biscayne Bay to Elliott Key in our motorboat for overnight camping. He even stayed on the boat overnight to make sure we had a safe, quick escape from the island if necessary!
My parents had strong community and family values and positive attitudes. They were role models for my sister and me every day. My mother, who was my father’s soulmate and helpmate in business, took over that business after his death. For years, she volunteered in hospitals and other community organizations, was a Girl Scout leader for 20 years, and was recognized for her philanthropy in many community and charitable organizations, including Girl Scouts.
My father, a veteran of WWII, came home to find and marry my mother, to start a family and a business: building beautiful homes in Coral Gables. He served his community as an Air force reservist for 20 years. He also served as the president of the Planning Board of the City of Coral Gables, doing his part to keep Coral Gables the “City Beautiful.” The business he built is still going strong today because of my mother’s leadership and management skills.
As I reflect on the life-changing Girl Scout events in which I was blessed to participate, I can see how valuable they were to me in my own life as a mother of two sons, as a wife and supporter for my husband, a planner of our social events and activities in our professional lives, and now taking over the family business, a role I am fulfilling every day, in part, with the confidence I gained from Scouting.
While you, the Girl Scout leaders of today, may see your scouts for only a few years as they grow to be young women, I know first-hand that your sacrifice of valuable family time, your tireless energy, your looking deeper into your girls’ talents and abilities, and your careful nurturing of those talents and abilities will stay with them throughout their lives.
Imagine, if you will, one more time, a girl, a high school senior scout about to graduate, speaking in a hotel ballroom full of her peers, Girl Scout leaders, family members, and Girl Scout supporters to assure them of the values and the long-lasting memories of our 12 years in Scouting. Now, see a woman, today, speaking in another hotel ballroom, full of new and seasoned volunteer leaders, but this time, to assure ALL OF YOU that YOUR meaningful leadership is valued and long-lasting.
I am that girl.
I am that woman.
I am a legacy of meaningful leadership, and
I am a grateful product of the long-lasting impact of Girl Scouting, which instills in all Scouts courage, confidence, and character.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here with you today! Have a wonderful year!