The Girl Scouts are going digital with their mission of building courage, confidence and character.
In response to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania added a virtual troop option that allows kindergarteners through high school seniors to participate in activities safely from homes.
“Virtual troops came from the idea that we knew a lot of our families would be getting together in person in different ways, especially because our council covers 27 counties, that’s a lot of diversity in how this pandemic is affecting each community,” said Stefanie Marshall, public relations and marketing manager with Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania.
“This is a way to make sure that we’re still able to provide the Girl Scout experience regardless of the restrictions.”
She said since March, Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania has offered hundreds of hours of skill-building and educational programs to keep girls connected while many extracurricular activities were canceled.
“We did virtual programming on Facebook, and over the summer, we did a Camp at Home series with workshops by camp directors, so this was the last piece of the puzzle to offer even more virtual opportunities,” Marshall said.
As with in-person activities, girls in virtual troops can earn badges and patches and participate in the cookie program, which begins in January.
The Scouts will also benefit from the same leadership experience components, including community service and involvement, leadership growth and taking on new challenges while having fun with friends.
“If a girl registers into a virtual troop, that is where they’ll go as they are building the troop,” Marshall said.
“Each troop could choose to have in-person activities down the road, but the whole idea is as they join in as virtual, they would stay in that realm,” she said.
Meeting the need
“We can work with girls to find troops in the area that would meet their needs.”
She said an advantage of the virtual troop is girls who choose this route will be connected with others from across the region.
“Until we really get rolling, it wouldn’t be just by community, so I think that’s a really cool benefit and gives a Johnstown girl the ability to connect with a girl in McKean County,” Marshall said.
“They get to experience our sisterhood in a different way.”
She said programmatically, there isn’t much difference between in-person and virtual troops.
“Instead of a troop leader leading activities, it would fall more to a family Girl Scout experience, where mom, dad or a caregiver would lend a hand in learning and helping with activities,” Marshall said.
“It is still girl-led and we’re still encouraging girls to speak up with the planning, so it’s much of the same experience, we’ve just had to switch our perspective a little bit.”
Shannon Dixon, leader of Girl Scout Cadette Troop 46321, Westmont, offered a virtual workshop in June for girls to try their hand at being a chef.
“This was an idea from another troop leader, Jodi Holland, and she sent us some information and it was really fun and just like the TV show ‘Chopped,’ ” she said.
Girls were given a bag of ingredients and each had to create an appetizer, entree and dessert.
“They had to make the meals before the scheduled Zoom meeting and then family members served as the judges,” Dixon said.
“It was our first virtual and it was very interactive and the girls really enjoyed it and the families got into it, too.”
As a result, the 10 Girl Scouts who participated in the activity earned cuisine badges.
Option for families
Dixon said Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania offering a virtual troop is a solid option for families who might not feel safe meeting in person.
“This gives us a great opportunity to do meetings somewhere else but we’re still doing something together and keeping the girls engaged with Girl Scouts,” she said.
“The more options you have, the better for families.”
Marshall said Girl Scouts believe that during uncertain times, it’s as important, if not more important, to have connections with others.
“While Girl Scouts do so much for leadership, courage and character, it’s also about friendships and having that connection with girls your own age, so we hope we can reach more girls where they are,” she said.
“The virtual troop is an option for families who otherwise might have chosen not to do Girl Scouts this year. It’s a good resource for your family during this time.”
Registration is being accepted for virtual and in-person troop options.
All in-person troop meetings are following current CDC and local guidelines.
Membership dues are $25 per girl and financial assistance is available.
For more information or to register, call 800-248-3355 or visit www.gswpa.org/learnmore.