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!

Top 5 Tips for First-Year Troop Leaders

Want to make a difference in the lives of girls? Volunteering for Girl Scouts is an immensely rewarding experience—helping to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who will become tomorrow’s leaders. As a volunteer, you will play a key part in your girls’ self-discovery.

Making it through your first year as a troop leader may seem challenging at times—but, no worries, our troop support staff can help you through the process! And fortunately, our volunteers are also gracious with sharing their tricks of the trade.

Angie Saldivar and Kimberly Primo are dishing on their first year as co-leaders of Troop 2116. Check out their “Top 5 Tips for First-Year Troop Leaders”—great advice whether you’re beginning your Girl Scout journey, or have been leading troops for years.

Daisy Girl Scout Troop 2116 poses for a group photo.

As first-year troop leaders, it’s definitely been an adventure! Both of us had been girls in Girl Scouting, but neither of us had been an adult volunteer before. Our daughters were both interested in becoming Daisies, so we decided to jump all in and start our own troop. This past year we learned many lessons, but most importantly enjoyed the great times with our girls:

  1. PRE-PLAN. Decide ahead of time what you want your girls to accomplish for the year prior to getting started. We sat down together and planned out our “year-at-a-glance” which gave us a realistic idea of the year ahead. The Daisy Girl’s Guide to Girl Scouting really helped us understand what themes to cover in each meeting. Use shared services like Google Drive so that both leaders can easily share ideas on the go. (Keep in mind Girl Scouts does encourage troops to be girl-led; however, since it was all our girls’ first year, they didn’t know what to expect or even what to ask for.) As our girls continue to get older, they will start to take over the planning.
  2. READ, READ, READ. There are LOTS of resources available to you, but do not get overwhelmed! The internet and Volunteer Essentials can get overwhelming and scary sometimes, so look to your service unit, council troop support staff, and fellow leaders for guidance on what is required by Girl Scouts. Our service unit provided us with a handy sheet that detailed which forms and other documents we needed to have. Use Pinterest! With a few clicks you can download the app and lose yourself in the rabbit hole. Use specific terms like “Lupe the Lupine” to find great suggestions for age-appropriate activities. As a troop, we started a shared board, which gave us inspiration and a springboard for our planning.
  3. INVEST TIME. Be prepared to spend much of your time devoted to Girl Scouting, especially in the beginning. Other than attending your own troop meetings, there are also monthly service unit meetings. Plus, time for preparing for girl activities and meetings, doing important paperwork (permission slips, financials, etc.)—did we mention paperwork?—and shopping for supplies.
  4. RECRUIT. Recruit a cookie chair! As a leader, you already have your plate full. If you can get a parent to be the cookie/fall product chairperson, you can focus more on your girls. Also, remember if you have parents attending your meetings, they need to have been screened and cleared before becoming Girl Scout volunteers. Ask your parents to help put together a quick craft or activity for an upcoming meeting.
  5. HAVE FUN! Last but definitely not least, take the time to get to know the girls and their interests. Enjoy singing, crafting, and creating with them. And definitely don’t sweat the small stuff.

Thank you to Kimberly and Angie for sharing your valuable insight! Girl Scouts provides a way for volunteers to positively shape the lives of our girls, and create lasting memories—for both the Girl Scouts and their leaders. Don’t forget to register your troop by our deadline: Sept. 23!

Volunteer University: Part 2

“We are all the same…proud to be Girl Scout leaders!”

As we approach back-to-troop, we’re constantly striving to improve ways to engage girls, volunteers, parents, and other supporters in the Girl Scout Movement. One of our favorite ways is the Volunteer Conference, which we previously featured on the blog. Following up on our earlier post, we’re sharing some top moments of the day, courtesy of Service Unit Communications Coordinator and Troop Leader Vala Runolfsson—many of which will resonate with other volunteers:

vala blog
Vala is joined by the rest of the Rancho Dominguez Estates Service Unit at the Volunteer Conference.

You can teach an old leader new tricks!  I am a Senior troop leader and have been leading for over 10 years—only three years until my girls graduate. How do I keep my troop interested?  Motivated for Gold?  Prepped to write resumes featuring their many Girl Scout experiences and get them to show up for meetings and events—and still have fun being a Girl Scout? “Volunteer U” gave me some new ideas and reinforced old ones. These were my favorite moments:

  • GSGLA CEO Lise Luttgrens beginning the day with a saying: “Volunteers don’t have more time, they have more heart.” Her sincerity was obvious. She choked up and made me feel honored to be a Girl Scout leader.
  • Professor Susan Helm (Pepperdine Nutritional Service) sharing her passion for her profession and inspiring us to lead the “Sow What” Journey. As a leader, I can continue to learn and the networking available to me as a Girl Scout is huge!
  • Gloria Halfacre’s assistance in navigating the Presidential Volunteer Service Award and instruction on how to sign up our troop as a certifying organization.  There is always someone who knows how to do what you want to do. You just have to ask.
  • The keynote speech from Girl Scout alumna and rocket scientist Olympia LePoint. I loved her reflections! So many hit home, but the standout for me: her belief that a leader is most effective when they are authentic and true to themselves. I loved her message and it rang true for me!
  • Paul Oliver and Jeff Wrigley’s presentation on the Patrol Challenge. Their passion for Scouting led them to create a fun and exciting adventure that teaches teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving. They inspired me to continue to emphasize the fun in Scouting.

But my favorite part was connecting to other leaders and volunteers. We have different interests; different ways of doing things; different ways to motivate and encourage our girls; different paths we’ve all walked that make us who we are. Yet we are all the same: passionate about our girls; excited to see them succeed; humbled and honored by their parents’ trust in us; and above all, proud to be Girl Scout leaders! Thank you, “Volunteer U”—I feel energized and ready to start the year.

Thank you, Vala, for your touching insights. Also, in case you haven’t seen them yet, check out our photo booth pictures from “Volunteer University!”

10 Lessons from Volunteer University

“We are showing girls they can accomplish anything.”

Our 2016 Volunteer Conference on Saturday, Aug. 6 was a success! More than 400 attendees signed up for classes at “Volunteer University,” on topics ranging from troop finances to gadgets for outdoor camping. volunteerconference_patch

We asked Troop Leader and Service Unit Communications Coordinator Michelle Sarrow to share 10 lessons she learned:

  1. Be positive. Your actions are what others see.
  2. Be present. Observe what is going on, but also participate.
  3. We need tools, too. These classes were created to help us as volunteers. There are some amazingly talented and knowledgeable volunteers within our membership. Don’t be afraid to ask. There is always something or someone who can assist you.
  4. We make a difference. We all know this, but when we get caught up with our day job or helping our own children, we often forget that there are more than 40,000 girls in Los Angeles learning to take chances or trying something new for the first time because of your efforts.
  5. Confidence is a skill. 20160806_135748 I learned this from our keynote speaker Olympia LePoint. She shared her story of growing up in South Central Los Angeles, and how she became a real-life NASA rocket scientist. She is poised and confident now, but she shared how she didn’t start out that way and had to find her confidence as she grew as a person.
  6. We are contagious. I borrowed this again from our keynote speaker. By smiling and overcoming whatever obstacle is in front of us, we are showing girls they can accomplish anything. By trying something just once, we proved we can do whatever we set our minds to.
  7. Making a cookie costume takes longer than 75 minutes. 20160806_192624 (002) Our amazing facilitator worked on every machine before we arrived, set up the room, and had all our supplies. Not one person completed the cookie in one hour, but we had a blast trying.
  8. The Presidential Volunteer Service Award is a lot of work. I was amazed at how easy our trainer made it look to do this for our girls, but also noticed how much time it would require to manage and maintain this process. Then I remembered something my SUM has stated a few times: If you have a helpful parent who is looking for something to do, this might be just the ticket!
  9. There are some simple rules to improve your picture quality. Get close. Make the subject of your picture cover 80 percent of the image. Use the ‘Rule of 3’ to frame your pictures. There are four key points to every picture: Focus, light, film/shutter speed, and aperture. Stay true to our brand—show smiles, confidence, having fun, and Girl Scouts!
  10. Use a single social media platform. Understand who your audience is and how they want to receive their information. If the majority of your audience uses a specific platform (Facebook), then that is the platform you should be using to convey your messages and images. Get everyone to use the same platform so that your information exchange is centralized.

Thank you, Michelle, for your insights! Stay tuned for future blog posts on the Volunteer Conference. Also, tell us what you learned!