By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Although Girl Scout cookies are one of life's everlasting pleasures, Girl Scouting itself is often a phase that passes around the time hormones pick up steam and being cool becomes a top priority.
"It's something that everyone gets into when they are 7 or 8," said Nikita Mani, a rising freshman at the University of Maryland, "and eventually quits."
But Mani and eight other members of Germantown's Girl Scout Troop 3577 have bucked that trend, sticking together from kindergarten through high school graduation in June. The two remaining troop members said they will stay active and graduate next year. About 3 percent of Washington area Girl Scouts are in grades 11 and 12.
"They don't care about whether it's geeky," said troop co-leader Laura Parker, whose daughter Amanda is a member. "They're like sisters at this point."
From their early days as Daisies and Brownies, the group members have focused on community service. They've planted trees and flowers at community centers, cleaned up trash along the C&O Canal and braved freezing temperatures to light candles in commemoration of each fallen soldier at the Antietam National Battlefield. Six of the troop have earned Gold Awards -- the Scouts' highest -- by completing individual service projects. (This year, 235 girls in the region received the honor.)
"None of them just punched the clock," said Cathy Loyd, a co-leader and mother. "They each had a different passion they followed through on."
Mani, a piano and clarinet player, had a music workshop for patients at Children's National Medical Center. Kara Loyd created informational signs about endangered animals at the Reston Zoo. Katie Ten Hagen, whose younger sister suffers from celiac disease, wrote a celiac-friendly (gluten-free) cookbook. And Amanda Parker, a soccer, softball and lacrosse player, developed and presented a workshop on nutrition, exercise and stress management for young girls living in a transitional shelter for homeless families.
"I wanted to teach easy ways without spending a lot of money to stay healthy and fit," said Parker, who will attend the University of Maryland at College Park in the fall.
Volunteering to help others is a cornerstone of Girls Scouting, as is earning badges, doing "interest projects" and camping. But members of Troop 3577 said the most valuable part of their experience was authentic friendship.
"With other people, you have to watch what you say, try to be cool and fit in with the high school crowd," said Kara Loyd, who is headed to Colorado State University to study wildlife management. "But we can act ourselves with each other. We don't have to act cool. I never feel the need to filter what I say."
Co-leader Parker said the girls have continued meeting through the years because they became friends early on and recognized, especially in middle school, that the group was a rare safe place to be themselves. As they got older and other extracurricular activities pulled at their time, meetings became less frequent and as much about hanging out as working toward badges, a typical Girl Scout measure of progress. "I always stressed let's do fun things, too," Parker said. "Whether or not they earned something was not as important as understanding that they had each other."
In Girl Scouts, young women "bridge" from one level to the next. The members of Troop 3577 have bridged to adulthood and said they are looking for opportunities to stay involved with scouting on their college campuses by acting as mentors to younger girls, Mani said.
"Girl Scouts has been part of my life for so long," she said, "that I'm not sure I want to give it up."