Before you start selling cookies and earning badges, you have to first be a part of a Girl Scout troop. This can prove to be a difficult task in some areas, including South Walton, where troops depend on adult volunteers to lead the way.
"There is a tremendous desire from the girls of South Walton to be Girl Scouts, including my own girls," said Amanda Rhodes, co-leader of Troop 653. "Therefore, I became a leader. The only thing holding more girls back from being a Girl Scout is a lack of leaders."
First-time leaders Rhodes and Alecia Gardner meet weekly with their troop, which is a mixture of Daises (kindergarten to first grade) and Brownies (second grade). The Sun attended one of the Thursday meetings, which fittingly, was about journalism. Each girl was tasked with designing the cover of her own notebook and writing a story.
Much of the artwork and stories were about the dolphin cruise field trip most of the girls had enjoyed that day, but one of the notebooks stood out from the crowd. While drawing her pet fish, named Michael Jackson, Brownie scout, Fiona, explained how the pet got his name.
"I've always liked the name Michael, and then I thought of the singer," she said.
Each week, troops meet for discussions and to work on crafts that emphasize the Girl Scout Promise, which is to serve God and Country, help others at all times and live by the Girl Scout Law. The Law promotes positive characteristics such as: honesty, fairness and being responsible and respectful. These lessons can go a long way in life.
With modern technology taking over kids’ free time, the active nature of Girl Scouts is one reason why parents like to sign their daughters up. The troop has visited Alaqua Animal Rescue, where they presented the organization with donated funds and an original painting in memory of Bucky, a horse that had passed away and was present at a local Homes for Heroes dedication, where they held signs and cheered.
"I like getting to help the community and being nice to others," said Breyanna Flachsmann .
Doing good by helping those in need is what the Girl Scouts are all about, said Taryn Flachsmann as she colored her notepad. Those words are like music to a graduate Girl Scout's ears.
"I went all the way through Girl Scouts," said Kim Anderson, as she watched her daughter Emma draw. "I signed my daughter up because I remembered the sisterhood of it.”
‘Perfect for a close-knit community like ours'
At the South Walton Fire District, another new group of Daises and Brownies, Troop 503, are touring the station to earn their "Respect Authorities" petal. The girls were full of questions while learning about the innards of the fire truck and touring the living quarters of the station.
The troops is not adverse to fun and squealed with delight when they got the chance to use the water hose; even troop leader Patty Warren took a turn. After everyone was done, the girls splashed in the puddles before receiving pink, plastic fire hats and coloring books.
Warren decided to become a leader for Troop 503 as a way to spend quality time with her daughter, Gavrielle, while also serving the community.
"As a mother of five, I've found time to balance the needs of my family with my Girl Scout duties without too much difficulty," Warren said. "And being a leader is a great opportunity to meet other parents in the community."
As a military spouse, Warren has seen the Girl Scouts at work throughout the country with her other daughters, and says no matter what, the core standards still apply.
"Regardless of the location of the troop, all Girl Scouts learn the same lessons," she said. "I've seen the Girl Scout program thrive in many different communities, including overseas."
Making sure that the Girl Scouts has a presence in Walton County is important to Warren.
"I know that Girl Scouts is perfect for a small, close-knit community like ours," she said. "Having troops in the area provides a positive after-school activity for our children and the more troops we have, the more opportunities we have to learn and grow with each other."
Let's hear it for the boys
As den leader, Brian Farmer has his work cut out for him — wrangling almost a dozen first grade boys otherwise known as Pack 562.
Founded just two years before the Girl Scouts in 1910, The Boy Scouts of America provides programs that promote ethical decision making skills, the will to help others and of course, the fun stuff.
Farmer climbed the Boy Scout ranks in his youth, ultimately earning his Eagle Scout title. The experience had a huge impact on his life.
"It helped shape my sense of moral responsibility and gave me a greater appreciation for the outdoors and our country."
The outdoor activities are a major draw to young boys.
"I got to learn what poison ivy looks like," said Farmer's son and Cub Scout Colton. "My favorite thing so far was archery day. Next, I want to learn how to use a pocket knife."
Farmer decided to become a den leader at the urging of his son.
"When we signed up at the beginning of the year, there was not a leader for the Tiger Cubs," he explained. "My son turned to me and said 'You always tell me to be a leader Dad, don't you want to be our leader?'"
"There's no backing down from that logic," Farmer added.
In lieu of cookies, the boys sell popcorn and like their female counterparts, Boy Scouts take tours of local operations such as fire stations. All of the boys' interests and hobbies range. When asked what they'd like to be when they grow up, diverse answers such as: Lego designer, Army man, professional athlete and video game designer were shouted out with enthusiasm.
No matter what the pack wants to accomplish in the future, lessons learned in the Boy Scouts will have a positive impact.
Want to become a leader?
You can learn more information about the local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts at www.gscfp.org and co.okaloosa.fl.us/bsa.html.
I hope they learn responsibility, respect for others and the outdoors," Farmer said. "And that with achievement comes a sense of pride in a job well done."