Girl Scout alum, Ernestine Durham of Miami Shores loves introducing girls to new experiences. From roasting s’mores and camping to community service and selling cookies, she makes sure her girls experience it all.
But if you ask her, it all comes back to getting outdoors and going camping. She knows that camping is more than campfires and s’mores. It’s building confidence, trying new things and the feeling of pride that comes along with learning to pitch your tent, building a campfire and enjoying the Girl Scout sisterhood.
When did you start as a Girl Scout?
I was part of a Brownie troop in my neighborhood growing up. I started in 1968 I believe. Our troop leader would walk to our house and pick us up and we would walk together to her house around the corner to have our meeting. I remember we had so much fun!
What inspired you to become a Girl Scout volunteer?
I started as a Girl Scout volunteer in 1993. I was asked to assist with the troop at the elementary school I work at (Phyllis Ruth Miller Elementary School). I really loved being with the Girl Scouts and watching my troop grow and grow and became so successful with hours of fun and adventure!
What inspires you when creating experiences for your girls?
It’s like I’m a little girl inside myself. I’m from a family of 6 girls. I don’t have daughters, I have a son. But the sisterhood is what inspires me. As a Troop Leader, I feel like their mother, outside of their own moms. I’ve been doing it for some many years and it’s like therapy for me.
What are some of your favorite experiences you've had?
Camping is absolutely awesome. I get to watch my girls come alive. Alot of them have never been outside - they’ve never had that exposure and they ask “what’s camping?” It’s important to me to take them camping - it covers so much. I love the experience of taking them to Mahachee - the atmosphere is like the old days. We must go there every year.
Another favorite memory is a camping trip we took to Key West in the early 90s. What a trip! We slept on the sand by the ocean and we had the stars to look at. It was astonishing.
What is your favorite part of being a leader?
My favorite thing is being able to be part of their lives. Molding their lives, giving them the opportunities that we have to become whatever they want to be. Whatever profession that they want - doctors, lawyers. And they come back to you afterwards. I have a lot of girls who are in college, married and with children of their own, and we are still in contact. I have one girl who’s heading to Spellman College - she’s been with my troop since Kindergarten.
Watching them grow and develop is my favorite part. Volunteering is rewarding but it’s hard work. Also, with Girl Scouts, we can offer parents something wholesome and good for their girls.
What is your advice for women who have never volunteered in this sort of role before?
You are doing the most amazing thing for a little girl. To bring all of this wonderful adventure and learning into her life. You couldn’t do a better thing to help your community and your neighborhood. Embrace it and love it. You are going to learn from your girls, they are going to teach you. I have learned so much from my girls, they have taught me and I have grown from it. The rewards are there. They are there.
How do you mentor girls to handle rejection or failure?
I get them out in the community. We do cookies and booths and we go to different neighborhoods, so they get a sense of the differences in the communities. We have pep talks about courtesy and kindness and smiles. If someone walks away or says no, I tell them to say, “thank you very much, maybe next time, have a great day.” with a smile. I make sure they are positive - people are positive.
Many people come to our booth and say “I was a Girl Scout, and now I’m a lawyer. Keep at it.” That exposure in the community and outside is huge. And the girls eat it up, they love it.
What have you learned from Girl Scouts?
What I have learned from Girl Scouts is every girl can be a Girl Scout no matter where she is from or what her interests are.