Bears for the bronze
By Tara DeRock Mahoney
Thirteen-year-old Megan Taylor is bent over a slip of paper containing a tall column of numbers, calculating carefully.
“Hey, can somebody check my math?” she calls to the roomful of middle-school girls who are moving back and forth between piles of colorful stuffed animals and teddy bears.
Victoria Cagle, 12, slides into a seat next to Megan, calculator in hand.
“Let’s use this and do it one more time,” she says.
A few keystrokes later, and the girls have a final count.
“Four hundred and eighty-four!” they call out to the others.
That’s the total head count on the teddy bears and stuffed animals that Morgan County Girl Scout Troop 103125 collected during the last week in September for local kids in crisis. All nine of the girls in the troop pause in their sorting and whoop in amazement.
“That’s so cool!” they call to Megan and Victoria.
The moment has been more than seven months in the making. Ever since the girls decided last March that the troop should complete a service project and that it should benefit local children in some way, Troop 103135 has been excited about the prospect of involving the community in their dream.
Completing the project in memory of Taylor Kinchen, the six-year-old Godfrey girl who passed away after complications from a brain tumor last January, was a given from the start—most of the girls in the troop had known her since her toddler days. Taylor’s big sister Shelby, 12, helped start Troop 103125 as a Daisy Scout in kindergarten; Taylor’s other big sis, Kourtney, 11, has been a member of the troop for almost as long.
Now in their eighth year together as a Girl Scout troop, the Kinchens, Victoria, Megan, Hannah Craig, Caroline Harrison, Itzi Hernandez, ElizabethMahoney, and Claire Woodard say that they feel like they are real sisters.
“It is like a family,” said P.J. Kinchen, mother of Shelby, Kourtney, and Taylor. “I think the project is a wonderful thing—it’s a shame we can’t do it every year to help local kids. Taylor would have been proud.”
All of the adults connected with the troop—including long-time leaders Janet Woodard and Shannon Cagle—are proud of the girls, too. Because the project is serving as the cornerstone of the girls’ Bronze Award—a stepping stone to the Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouting—the members of the troop, all of whom are students at Morgan County Middle School, had to do all the work themselves.
The girls painted posters, made a flier, contacted school principals, even made a video featuring members of the troop (with the help of Heather Elo, the middle school technology teacher) that the primary, elementary, and middle schools showed on their morning announcement programs. They spent nearly 80 man-hours organizing the event.
“We had fun making the video for the announcements,” said Elizabeth Mahoney, who got to learn how to use Windows MovieMaker software for the project. “I want to make another one.”
* * *
It’s relatively unusual for a Girl Scout troop to remain together for as long as this one has. Girl Scout troops are more equivalent to dens in Boy Scouting, with troops generally being made up of 6-10 girls. But the bonds between these girls go deep—and their families are close friends, too, which helps.
“We’ve been getting together twice a month, every month, for almost eight years,” said leader Cagle. “All of the parents—husbands and wives—are familiar faces to these girls. It’s hard to imagine not seeing everybody like that.”
The girls enjoy the opportunities for community service work, camping, and—of course—selling Girl Scout cookies that scouting provides. As middle-schoolers, they get to decide what kinds of things they want to learn about as a scouting group, planning in the fall what they’d like to accomplish during the coming months. This year, there’s a focus on fun—a spa night is in the works—as well as careers; a couple of different meetings are planned in which local professionals come to talk about their work with the girls. They’re also looking forward to a tour of Morgan Memorial (the emergency room of which is the recipient of some of “Taylor’s Teddy Bears”), and another camping trip. The troop’s activities have become part of the fabric of their life.
Claire Woodard, a founding member of the troop and a champion lamb (to say nothing of cows and pigs) shower for Morgan County 4-H, says it can be difficult finding time for meetings.
“Lots of times, we’re leaving Girl Scouts to go to Perry [to show animals] ; it’s hard to fit everything in,” she says. “But we have a lot of fun in our meetings, and we learn a lot of cool stuff.”
“Every year is busy,” agrees Elizabeth Mahoney. “I take dance, and I like doing plays with Mrs. [Kathleen] Bryant. But I love being in Scouts. I can’t imagine not going there every two weeks.”
And for all that, there is no feeling of exclusivity in Troop 103125. They are always interested in meeting other girls interested in scouting.
“Give us a call,” says leader Janet Woodard.