15 years ago Patricia Cruz was introduced to Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida. A day which started with meeting a friend for a cup of coffee ended with signing her two daughters up for Girl Scouts. A year later, Patricia found herself in the driver’s seat taking on the leadership role with Troop 954.
As her daughters grew so did Patricia’s involvement and she moved onto found Troop 918, a Coral Gables-based Troop which, at its highest point, had 50 girls participating during any given year. Since then, Patricia’s efforts have positively impacted the lives of countless girls of all ages and as her girls flourished, so did her involvement with the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida. As of 2021, Patricia can be found mentoring new troops, guiding the newly formed women’s-only Troop 305, serving as a member of the Highest Awards Task Committee and as the 2021 Chair of the Cocktails to Campfires Annual Fundraising Event.
We recently sat down with the inspiring volunteer for a virtual cup of Cafecito to learn about impact that GSTF has had on her life throughout the last two decades.
What sparked your interest to become a Girl Scout volunteer?
I had made plans to have coffee with a friend after we dropped off our daughters at school. That morning, my friend asked if I wouldn’t mind waiting a few minutes because she had to go to a quick meeting to register her daughter in the school’s Girl Scout troop, so I went along just to keep her company. As I sat there waiting, I heard about the activities that they were planning and thought that my daughters might enjoy it, so I signed them up as well. My daughter Christina was in 1st grade and Victoria was in pre-K. I loved the idea of exposing my daughters to community service projects at such a young age so they participated actively in the troop throughout the year.
At the end of the school year, the Director of the school asked to speak to me and told me that the troop leader was not going to continue next year, then smiled and said “So, if you don’t agree to be the troop leader next year, we won’t have a Girl Scout troop anymore”. I stood there for a minute, wide-eyed, and then I said “OK, I’ll do it”. Mind you, I had no idea how to be a troop leader or what else I needed but I was committed to keeping my daughters involved in Girl Scouting. I met with Suzanne Levitt, our Community Manager, who gave me a crash course in Girl Scouts 101. It wasn’t just about cookies and camping (which are both fantastic!)
Girl Scouts build leaders that see the world around them, identify issues in their community and helps them develop the understanding and confidence to take on any challenge. The earlier you expose girls to their potential and the power within them, the stronger and more confident they will be. There are no limits, no boundaries. In Girl Scouts, girls are the decision-makers, the leaders, the scientists, the activists, the artists. They become astronauts, senators, congresswomen, CEOs, authors, athletes and game-changers. And that is what I wanted my daughters and their friends to understand, so that they, too, would be inspired to be leaders in whatever area they chose.
What's your favorite part about volunteering with the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida?
I love the fact that you can change girls' lives and give them incredible confidence in themselves by exposing them to what Girl Scouts is all about. Girl Scouts allows girls to see, experience and imagine things that they wouldn’t be exposed to, if not for Girl Scouts. Ninety-five percent of my girls would never go camping if I didn’t take them. They wouldn’t meet CEOs of companies, or meet other Gold Award Girl Scouts. They wouldn’t meet female pilots and astronauts and hear their inspiring stories. But most importantly, they develop the confidence to make a difference in their community.
My daughter saw an unfair policy at our local Youth Fair where Boy Scouts had 5 times the amount of space as Girl Scouts in the exhibit hall, and she decided to change it. She emailed the Board, gathered over 40,000 signatures and met with the administrators where she successfully got them to change that policy to be equal for both. Just last week, through one of my troop activities focused on Dark Sky advocacy, several girls reached out to their neighbors and community leaders to discuss light pollution and steps that they could take to reduce it. One of the girls received a reply from the City Manager asking to meet with her (and other City Officials) to discuss her idea!
These girls will forever carry the confidence that comes from knowing that they have the power within themselves to make such an impact.
Is there anything you hoped to learn or accomplish through volunteering?
My hope is that the girls realize that they are the leaders, not just of tomorrow, but of today. I want them to see that there are no limits to what they can accomplish and that they can change the world...starting today.
Do you have a favorite story from volunteering that you would like to share?
I love to teach the girls that they are leaders and world-changers, but I have to say that one of my favorite things is actually taking the girls camping. Most of these girls have never (and would never ) go camping otherwise. It is so much fun to see them discover the outdoors and develop a love for it as they participate in traditional Girl Scout activities. We do primitive camping and they learn survival skills such as fire building, securing safe food and water, shelter building and basic first aid. They go back to basics and connect with each other without the distractions of modern technology.
It's really amazing to see that in the process of learning these outdoor skills, they learn that they can rely on themselves and take care of themselves, no matter the situation. That confidence is something they carry with them forever.
Have you learned anything new about YOURSELF since starting your volunteer journey?
I learned that by teaching the girls to think big and reach high, I've also expanded my own ability to take on challenges and think big. I have a plaque on my desk that sums it up perfectly... "It's kind of fun to do the impossible!"
If there is one thing you'd like other Girl Scouts or volunteers in our community to know or learn, what would it be?
Go to the Annual Convention, and take your girls if you can!! It is an absolutely magical experience. The guest speakers are phenomenal, and you are surrounded by girls and women from all around the United States that share your passion for leadership, science, service and advocacy. It is an incredibly motivating and inspiring experience!
Volunteering with Girl Scouts has made me a better person and a stronger leader.