A Troop Leader’s Best Friend

At Girl Scouts, we’ve invested in shared tools and technology aimed at improving the volunteer and girl experience, including the Girl Scout Volunteer Toolkit (VTK): Now, troop leaders have an easy way to organize activities, plan meetings, and put girls’ ideas into action!

But don’t just take our word for it—hear from troop leaders who’ve been using VTK to jump-start their Girl Scout year!


Shoshana Stopek, Troop 2916

No more carrying heavy binders! The Volunteer Toolkit will lighten your load. It’s the resource we’ve been waiting for! In the past, we had to rely mainly on Google and Pinterest to search for badge ideas, requirements, and planning guides. The Volunteer Toolkit puts everything in one easy-to-use tool—all in one place.

Here are some of my favorite features:

  • Quickly explore badges available by gradelevel; customize by badge type (e.g., STEM).
  • Customize your year plan right in the tool itself and email it to your troop.
  • The tool is accessible to everyone registered with your troop—super convenient!
  • The Resources tab is my favorite. It features some really great links such as Meeting Aids and Meeting Overviews, as well as Safety guides (e.g., Girl to Adult ratios), and tutorial videos.
  • You can access the toolkit from your phone on the go—it’s mobile-friendly!

This toolkit is useful for any troop. On a personal note, I’m finding the tool especially great because we’re a co-op troop and we share equally in the leadership and planning. The resources within this tool are a big time-saver and empower everyone to plan, organize, and lead a badge or journey. I can definitely see this tool being expanded upon in the future; but for now, having it as a “go-to” resource is fantastic.


Christine and Tomás Romero, Troop 3326

Five tips for using the new Volunteer Toolkit:

  1. Be patient. My husband and I are fairly tech-savvy, but even we get lost in the woods sometimes when using new software programs and apps. But it is actually very easy to use if you are patient, take it slowly, and allow yourself time to explore all of the new features a bit before fully diving in.
  2. Meeting planning made easy. The new Meeting Plan feature is amazing. Not only does it allow you to map out your entire meeting schedule for the Girl Scout year in one, easily shareable place, but it also allows you to actually plan individual meetings down to the minute, from the Pledge of Allegiance to the closing friendship circle. Very cool stuff all around!
  3. One-step emailing. Another one of our favorite features in the new Volunteer Toolkit is the improved email feature. Emailing your entire troop with one email from one, easy-to-navigate home base is amazing and a real time-saver. Especially if you have a hard time keeping track of all of your parents’ email addresses.
  4. Learn together. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your fellow leaders when you need it. We bring a laptop to our meetings sometimes and have huddled around it with our co-leaders several times to make sure we all had a handle on how the Toolkit works. So a team approach to learning the new system has really helped us a lot!
  5. Track attendance. And finally, one small, but not insignificant new feature of the Toolkit is the ability to track our girls’ attendance from week to week. The fact that we can now know for sure which girls attended which meetings is invaluable, and will make it easier for us to advise parents on the badge work their girls will need to catch up. Best feature ever!

Thank you to Shoshana, Christine, and Tomás for your feedback! You can learn more about the Volunteer Tookit here, along with the rest of our new online tools.

Need help getting started? Contact us.

Want to share your Volunteer Toolkit tips and tricks? Leave a comment!

Volunteer Spotlight: Risk-taker

“These girls are sisters, and should be treating each other like that, no matter what they’re able or not able to do.” 

Our volunteers are the backbone of our organization’s success—propelling our girls forward and guiding them through life-changing, skill-building programs. Since Girl Scouts is for all girls, we’re committed to fostering a diverse, inclusive environment where everyone can develop her inner G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader). That also pertains to volunteers, who serve as role models for our Girl Scouts.

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Troop leader and AbilityGS Go Team member Julia Montoya.

As risk-takers, our volunteers are courageous and strong, and embrace the unfamiliar while staying true to their values. This is certainly true with Julia Montoya, who is a member of the AbilityGS Go Team and a leader for Ambassador Troop 11965. The AbilityGS Go Team provides a forum for parents and volunteers to connect with one another about successfully integrating girls into troops, regardless of abilities. For Julia, whose daughter is a member of her troop and also on the autism spectrum, the group has proven invaluable: “It helps me to accommodate [my daughter] Valerie, because although I have to go along with the rules, maybe not everything goes well for her. Being part of the Go Team helps me see that, and work on accommodations for her.”

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Julia’s daughter Valerie (far right).

Girl Scouts has been an inclusive organization since its inception, offering a safe, welcoming, and fun space for every girl. For Julia’s daughter, the experience has helped her in many ways: “She’s become more independent and outspoken because she has to complete Journeys, and has to speak to people and ask them questions,” says Julia. Not only that—Girl Scouts has also opened doors for Valerie: “She completed a Journey on food and wants to take horticulture at school… She now knows the importance of eating organic food, and recently said, ‘You know what Mom, I want to try Veggie Grill.’ For Valerie to try something new, it’s very rare.”

Julia, along with the rest of the Go Team, want to ensure troop leaders are comfortable navigating their girls’ different levels of abilities: “While most leaders might not be scared, some worry about not being able to accommodate all girls.” Through the Go Team members’ various experiences, they’re able to provide advice and connect volunteers with resources. Together, they’re helping to build a community of leaders who empower girls to become independent—by being courageous themselves.

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Julia’s troop on a camping trip with another troop.

Plus, creating an environment of inclusiveness benefits all girls. During Julia’s first year as a troop leader, her girls accompanied another group on a camping trip. Throughout the experience, Julia was struck by the words of longtime GSGLA volunteer Ted Oyama, who kept saying, “help your sister.” At one point, Valerie stood apart from the group after climbing a hill overlooking the ocean. As she watched the girls, Julia noticed one of them go up to Valerie and ask what she enjoyed most about the weekend, sparking a conversation. The moment reinforced Ted’s mantra about the Girl Scout spirit: “These girls are sisters, and should be treating each other like that, no matter what they’re able or not able to do.”

Thank you to Julia and the rest of the AbilityGS Go Team for upholding Girl Scouts’ dedication to welcoming girls of all abilities. For more information about the Go Team, contact us.

Be Prepared: 5 Reasons Why You Should Early Renew

Renew by June 15 to earn awesome rewards.

With summer nearly upon us—and for some, it’s already here—we can easily forget about the upcoming school (and Girl Scout) year. But we all know Girl Scouts provides girls with countless opportunities to explore their interests, learn new skills, and make the world a better place. So why not ensure a seamless transition to the new year by renewing your girls’ membership now, as well as your own?

Our Early Renewal registration is open until June 15. Not only does renewing early deliver peace of mind, but it also offers multiple rewards for members and troops. Just see the ones we’ve listed below!owlpatch-3

  1. Earn our collectible Early Renewal patch. Who doesn’t love a fun, new patch to add to your collection? All girls and adults who renew by June 15 will earn the GSGLA Early Renewal patch.
  2. Be prepared for the fall product program. Only girls and adults who’ve renewed their membership can participate in this popular program. Don’t wait until the last minute to renew—take care of it today and you won’t experience any delays!
  3. Boost your cookie season earnings. Troops who meet certain criteria will generate extra funds while selling boxes of Girl Scout Cookies! Check out the details here.
  4. Earn other special troop incentives. Adding new girls? Your troop could be invited to a special event. Renewing most of your girls? You could receive tote bags. Learn more here.
  5. Enjoy your summer, knowing another great Girl Scout year is about to begin. Yes, we’re back to having peace of mind—which is invaluable, given all the distractions of summer and the start of the school year. Having one less thing to worry about will make your life that much easier once September rolls around. Plus, your membership will be good through September 2018.

All it takes to enjoy these benefits is a few minutes of your time right now. Ensure your Girl Scouts have the opportunity to build upon what they’ve learned and enjoyed this current year, and continue to grow and thrive.

Renew your membership for 2017-18, and you and your girls will be well on your way to unlocking another inspiring, life-changing Girl Scout year.

Volunteer Spotlight: Innovator

“Girl Scouts is all about the girls… but if you don’t have volunteers, then the girls have nowhere to be.”

As we celebrate National Volunteer Month, GSGLA is honoring the stellar women and men who dedicate countless hours to our mission. One outstanding example is Cindy Bernsdorf, who received the Thanks Badge at our Volunteer Recognition Ceremony, one of the highest honors bestowed on volunteers.

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Cindy (top row, third from left) with her Brownie troop.

A lifetime Girl Scout, Cindy embodies the Girl Scout Promise and Law and has made a long-lasting impact on the Movement here in Greater LA. Today, she serves as the lead for the Communications Go Team, but her Girl Scout journey began in second grade, when her mom was her troop leader.

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Cindy as a senior in high school.

She continued in the program for the next 10 years, and has fond memories of visiting local sites as a Brownie, including Olvera Street, and of traveling to Mexico City as a high school senior, stopping by Our Cabaña, one of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts’ World Centers.

Years later, Cindy returned to her Girl Scout roots as a leader for her older daughter’s troop and “fell in love with [the program] because I didn’t realize as a girl there was a beautiful structure [to it],” she says. “Girls could have opportunities to do all these things they’d never done before.”

Over the course of the next decade, Cindy’s Girl Scout career included volunteering at the service unit level where she served as a recruiter, a consultant, service unit manager, area manager, council trainer, and more. Cindy says she particularly enjoyed being a liaison between the staff and service units, and “getting all the information from the council, since I’m a person who loves to have information” (which makes her a natural fit for the Communications Go Team!).

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Cindy serving on a GSGLA alumnae committee.

After she rose through the ranks of various operational jobs, Cindy became a member of the council’s board of directors. Her tenure coincided with the merger that resulted in Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles. She played an instrumental part in ensuring the transition to Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles went as smoothly as possible, particularly in ensuring a volunteer recognition system was in place. “Volunteers need to feel that what they’re doing is important and appreciated,” she says. “They need to see the impact of what they do and how that feeds down to what everybody wants—a great program for girls.”

For the last several years, Cindy has served as the lead for the Communications Go Team, a position that has fueled her number-one passion: supporting volunteers. The Go Team has developed and refined materials to streamline communications across the council. “I want volunteers to have an easier time, to be recognized, and to be able to do what they do with the least amount of problems,” says Cindy. “Obviously Girl Scouts is all about the girls… but if you don’t have volunteers, then the girls have nowhere to be.”

Cindy wholeheartedly encourages others to volunteer for Girl Scouts—not only for the longstanding friendships you form, but also the important skills you acquire: “I can’t say enough about the things I’ve learned that I wouldn’t have done. There’s something there for everyone.”

We’re so thankful to Cindy for her years of service to our council and Movement, as well as her innovative thinking and tenacious spirit. Congratulations on earning the Thanks Badge!

Want to learn more about volunteering for Girl Scouts? Visit our website.

Volunteer Spotlight: Leader

“As you empower others, it reflects back on you, and it builds you without your knowing. It’s only in time you see how much you’ve changed.”

We all know Girl Scouts exists for girls, but it exists because of volunteers. Throughout April, we’re recognizing our amazing, dedicated volunteers across the council, and profiling some of them right here on our blog.

One of the highest honors Girl Scouts can bestow on a volunteer is the Thanks Badge. Longtime GSGLA volunteer Sandra Hardy has provided outstanding service to the council and the entire Girl Scout Movement for years—which is why she received the award at our 2017 Volunteer Recognition Ceremony.

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Sandra (top right) with her Brownie troop.

Sandra is currently an adult educator, lead for the Outdoor Program Go Team, and member of several other Go Teams. But her Girl Scout story started when she co-led her daughter’s troop in kindergarten. She eventually became a troop leader, a position she held for 14 years—even after her own daughter graduated. That’s because of the strong bonds she fostered with the girls, whom she empowered to make decisions: “It was very girl-led, very girl-driven. I let them pick all the activities and I provided a safe environment or site.”

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Sandra’s troop working together.

One of her fondest moments happened shortly after she formed a large pathway troop with girls from across Santa Clarita Valley, when her daughter was in middle school. To ensure the girls started off on a positive foot, Sandra organized an inspirational (albeit challenging) weekend: one focused on rock climbing and rappelling! According to Sandra, “The girls were terrified, and we had to work together. Within a few months, everyone was still working together and being respectful, even if someone else had a different idea. The whole experience changed my life, and I didn’t realize how I had affected the girls until they all graduated.”

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The troop at Marine Landing.

Even after graduation, the girls still keep in touch with Sandra, with one even reaching out recently for leadership tips for a presentation: “So here we are again, working together like we did in the troop.” As the lead for the Outdoor Program Go Team, Sandra says she runs the team the same way she led her troop: “We’re equals; it’s okay if someone doesn’t like your ideas—you accept it and move on.”

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Sandra (right) at Nature Rocks day camp.

Sandra holds many roles across the council, and recently made an indelible impact with the creation of the index for Volunteer Essentials. She along with another volunteer, Linda Harmon, combed through numerous keywords and phrases, and optimized the index for all users, using the “perspective of a new leader who doesn’t know Girl Scout wording yet.” The index now serves as a baseline for future versions of the guidebook.

The Thanks Badge recipient, who is also nominated for Santa Clarita Valley Woman of the Year, says Girl Scouts has been nothing short of an enriching, empowering experience—not only for the girls, but also for herself. Sandra recently landed a job as an EMT, and believes the confidence she gained through Girl Scouts made her career change possible: “As you empower others, it reflects back on you, and it builds you without your knowing. It’s only in time that you see how much you’ve changed.”

We’re so proud of Sandra and appreciative of her years of service to our girls and council, as well as her candor in sharing her experiences.

To learn how you can inspire and motivate girls through volunteering, visit our website.

Volunteer Spotlight: Go-Getter

When her best friend asked her to co-lead a troop, she couldn’t say no.

At Girl Scouts, we know our volunteers are the backbone of our organization, devoting countless hours to bringing out the G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader) in every girl. From cookie season to community service projects and everything in between—our volunteers are committed and passionate. We know the work isn’t easy, but it means so much to our 40,000 girls who are learning crucial skills, experiencing new activities, and making lifelong friends. Not only that, they’re also developing confidence and learning what it takes to lead with empathy. And it’s all thanks to our volunteers, who are showing our girls that yes—they are the future!

Here at GSGLA, we have more than 24,000 volunteers who contribute their time, talents, and energy to empowering our girls.  Throughout April (National Volunteer Month), we will be highlighting some of them right here on our blog.


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Gini hard at work at the Cadette overnight.

We begin our series with go-getter and long-time volunteer Gini Vandergon, who co-leads Senior Girl Scout Troop 3025. (She’s also receiving the Appreciation Pin at our Volunteer Recognition Ceremony on April 22.)

Gini started her Girl Scouting career in the second grade—and loved being a part of a troop so much, she stayed in Girl Scouts for 10 years. “Girl Scouts gave me opportunities that otherwise I wouldn’t have had,” says Gini, who grew up in the Bay Area. Even when she moved before seventh grade, she joined a new troop to continue her Girl Scouting experience and meet girls with similar interests—especially outdoors activities, like camping and canoeing. She even went to Hawaii with her sister Girl Scouts during her senior year of high school, using troop funds.

So when her best friend asked her to co-lead her daughter’s Daisy troop, Gini couldn’t say no. That was a decade ago. Today, the girls are Seniors and two of them have earned the Girl Scout Gold Award (the highest achievement in Girl Scouting), with one of them working toward it. According to Gini, leading a troop is “really rewarding, and if you can volunteer with the same group of girls, it’s really fun to see how they grow and mature.”

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As a role model, Gini has used her influence to introduce the girls to new experiences and broaden their horizons. Growing up by the beach, some of the girls hadn’t ever seen snow—until Gini and her co-leader took them to Frazier Park. She’s also encouraged them to help underserved communities, leading to many service projects over the years, as well as the girls’ pursuit of the Gold Award.

Gini herself is a biology professor and advocates for STEM education, particularly for girls and women. She believes Girl Scouts opens doors for girls and gives them leadership skills—much like it did for her: “I was very shy when I was young, and Girl Scouts helped me overcome that and gain confidence.”

Being a troop leader has also brought her into contact with like-minded women who want to empower and inspire girls. She says one of the draws of volunteering has not only been working with her co-leader (and best friend), but also “[the] wonderful women involved in Girl Scouting we’ve met over the years, who are great role models for girls.”

Gini looks forward to staying involved with Girl Scouts after her girls graduate in a couple years. Her advice for other leaders, particularly those of younger troops: “It gets easier. You don’t have to do everything—take it in pieces. Soon the girls begin to come up with their own ideas, and can take the lead on their own.”


Thank you, Gini, for your hard work and commitment to uplifting girls, and for providing the GSGLA community with your insight. We look forward to honoring you at our Volunteer Recognition Ceremony on April 22—Girl Scout Leader’s Day.

Stay tuned for the next profile in our National Volunteer Month blog series. For more information on volunteering for Girl Scouts, click here.

A Different Side of Girl Scouting

“Setting that example of volunteering, working together to make cookie season an even bigger success, is so important.”

We all know Girl Scout Cookies are not only delicious but life-changing: The Girl Scout Cookie Program, the world’s largest girl-run business, instills critical values in these young go-getters. With every sale, Girl Scouts learn the fundamentals of running an enterprise and the skills needed to be successful.

But behind every Girl Scout troop is an army of volunteers, including the parents and troop leaders on the front lines at booth sales: It’s a vast and coordinated effort to make sure our Girl Scouts get the most meaningful experience.

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Volunteers at our Marina del Rey cupboard.

One group that’s instrumental to the success of cookie season is our team of cookie cupboard volunteers. Cookie cupboards, in case you aren’t familiar, are where troops go to pick up and exchange orders of cookies. To make sure the process goes smoothly, GSGLA relies on our amazingly dedicated volunteers who give their time (and sweat!) to running our cookie cupboards—many of whom also have other roles at the troop and service unit/neighborhood levels. (Want to sign up to volunteer at our cookie cupboards? Click here!)

We spoke with three superstar volunteers who return each year to our cookie cupboards: Astrid Fribourg-Martinez (referred to as AF below), Chris Steptoe (CS), and Rosalie Brown (RB). Here’s what they had to say about their experience—and why you should consider volunteering too:


Q: Why do you volunteer each year at our cookie cupboards?
CS: I love being around the excitement of cookie season! Being able to help drives me to return. I’m busy like other parents and like that I can put in a couple hours of work at a time.
AF: I love returning to the Marina Del Rey cupboard because the people we greet and help stock their orders are so friendly. They are so appreciative of our service. This is my fourth year volunteering at the cupboard and it’s nice to see returning volunteers, some of whom I only see at this event. That makes it feel like a mingling party!
RB: It is a lot of fun. I have worked with these ladies for many years. Also, you see the pride in the troop leaders or helpers who pick up cookies. You get to meet a lot of people.

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Volunteers at our Montclair cupboard.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories from volunteering at our cupboards?
RB: My favorite memories are watching the little Girl Scouts trying to pick up the boxes that are almost as big as they are. Standing inside that cold trailer until troops come to pick up cookies. Just talking and getting to know each other.
CS: Meeting new people, especially leaders whose troops and/or daughters are headed to college. Their experiences and stories are a tremendous help.
AF: I have met many troop leaders who swap stories and adventure experiences, which couldn’t make this a more enjoyable environment to work in.  

Q: If you are involved in other Girl Scout activities, what do you do?
AF: I have been with my troop for five and a half years. Right from the start, I helped take charge of certain badges or outings. Then once I experienced the system of Girl Scouts, I volunteered to lead a level (we are a multi-level troop).
RB: I am the service unit fall product chair for Compton/Lynwood.
CS: I’m a parent volunteer. My daughter’s troop is located in the South Bay. I help coordinate the events for our troop.

Q: Why should others volunteer for cookie cupboards? For Girl Scouts in general? 
RB: At the cupboards, you get to see a different side of Girl Scouting and make new friends. You should volunteer for Girl Scouts, because there are so many girls who need to interact with other girls, and Girl Scouts helps them find out what they want to be in life. It teaches them so much about themselves. The joy you see in later years of what these girls have become in our society makes you so proud.
CS:  Grooming the girls for leadership is a big deal. Setting that example of volunteering, working together to make cookie season an even bigger success, is so important. The girls will follow. It’s positive. It displays helpfulness. Why not help an organization where you’re directly involved? 
AF: I believe everyone should give some of their time volunteering for this organization, because you are helping shape the future leaders of our country’s communities.

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Volunteers at our Marina del Rey cupboard.

Huge thanks to Astrid, Chris, and Rosalie for answering our questions—and for contributing their time and talents to our Movement!

Want to support an increasingly important cause while exercising, making friends, and having fun? Sign up to volunteer at one of our cookie cupboards! (Must be 18+ years of age. One exception: Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts if accompanied by an adult.) Our cookie cupboards are open Feb. 2–March 12, 2017, with locations in Arcadia, Covina, Downey, Long Beach, Marina del Rey, Montclair, Torrance, and Woodland Hills.

Want to learn about other ways to volunteer with Girl Scouts? Click here.