June 28, 2008

Girl Scouts Inviting Adults To Lend Hand

By Kenneth Knight, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

Jun. 28--TEMPLE TERRACE -- With a firm tug, members of Girl Scouts Senior Troops 481 and 730 folded the American flag with the precision of a military honor guard.

Lauren Stewart, 17, meticulously guided Hannah Eichhorn, 15, Jennifer Fischer, 16, and Megan Brady, 15, all of Temple Terrace, through the proper way to retire a flag during a practice drill at Woodmont Park.

A few feet away, two troop leaders and a parent volunteer stood under a moss-draped oak just out of reach of the blinding sun, admiring the Scouts' fancy work and cheering them on.

The women -- Helen Brady and Troop 481 co-leaders Barbara Gould and Grace Stewart -- are among a handful of road warriors who support the Sunburst troops, a service unit of the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida.

Sunburst is seeking volunteers -- women and men of all ages and racial and ethnic backgrounds -- to work with the girls and share in the fun of watching them learn and grow.

The service unit encompasses an area bordered by County Line Road to the north, Hillsborough Avenue to the south, the Tampa Bypass Canal to the east and Nebraska Avenue to the west.

Volunteer leaders chauffeur the Scouts to meetings, group events and field trips across the Tampa Bay area. They help organize activities and support their community service projects.

Many are former Girl Scouts who try to pass on the values of sound decision-making, community involvement and leadership that provided the foundation for their lives.

"When you know your stuff as a Girl Scout, you know it better than any Boy Scout," said Deb Holton-Fischer, a parent volunteer who said she was a Girl Scout in the Temple Terrace troop led by Clifford "Skipper" Richardson.

Richardson is thought to be the longest-serving Girl Scout in the Bay area, if not the state. She devoted 76 years to the organization before her death in January 2007 at age 89.

Troop leaders say it's tough to find adults willing to donate the time and energy.

Cammie Dennis, director of the Sunburst Service Unit and leader of Troop 730, said she knows 10 area girls who want to join a Sunburst troop but no adults are willing to serve as volunteers.

There is a waiting list with the names of about 160 girls interested in becoming Girl Scouts in the eight-county region. More than 33,000 girls ages 5 through 17 participate in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Polk, Citrus, Marion and Sumter counties.

It's an age-old problem affecting all of Scouting, she said.

"There are never enough troop leaders, whether you are talking about Temple Terrace or anyplace," Dennis said.

Dennis could have walked away from Scouting five years ago when her daughter, Kristal, wrapped up 13 years as a Girl Scout to become a Hillsborough County sheriff's dispatch operator. She didn't because her services were still needed.

Holton-Fischer said most people don't realize how much fun they can have. Those involved in Scouting have an obligation to educate the public.

"They think the only thing Girl Scouts do is sell cookies and wear uniforms," she said.

Girl Scouts Have Rich History

Many people don't know that a great deal of Girl Scouts history is here in Hillsborough County, Holton-Fischer said.

The Girl Scouts organization has been a part of Tampa and Temple Terrace since the early 20th century. A year after Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts in Savannah, Ga., on March 12, 1912, Jessamine Flowers Link formed the second troop in the country in South Tampa's Hyde Park.

By 1921, the Temple Terrace Community Church at 210 Inverness Ave. was a major sponsor of Girl Scout activities, Dennis said. A photo of a young Richardson, who became the leader of the first Temple Terrace troop, hangs on the wall of the church social hall.

Holton-Fischer said "Skipper" Richardson got her nickname because of her nautical knowledge and her ability to help the Girl Scouts with their mariner badges.

Holton-Fischer's 16-year-old twins, Crystal and Jennifer, are now involved in the Girl Scouts.

Jennifer Fischer of Temple Terrace said the more people get involved in Scouting, the less stigma there will be to participate.

"I used to think people thought we were different," said Jennifer, who will be a junior at Blake High School in the fall. "A lot of my friends aren't in Scouting, so I didn't think they like it, but they don't know about it."

Troop Members Appear On TV

The Girl Scouts say they love the activities and travels. Members from Troops 481 and 730 made an appearance on NBC's "Today" show a few weeks ago when meteorologist Al Roker acknowledged them in the crowd during a field trip to New York City.

On June 17, troop leaders, parent volunteers and troop members were back in the social hall at Temple Terrace Community Church. The girls thumbed through thick books filled with information on how to earn the Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouts.

Girl Scouts hoping to earn the Gold Award, given for leadership in community service, are Fischer and her twin sister, Crystal; Lauren Stewart, a senior at King High School; Hannah Eichhorn, a sophomore at Berean Academy; Megan Brady, a sophomore at King High School; and Christina Barnard, a junior at Armwood High School. The awards carry weight with colleges and employers.

The girls credited their troop leaders and parents with keeping them involved, saying they represent a lot of what's good about Scouting.

Girl Scout Troops 481 and 730 meet at 7 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month at Temple Terrace Community Church, 210 Inverness Ave. For information about joining Girl Scouts, as a member or adult volunteer, visit .

Reporter Kenneth Knight can be reached at (813) 865-4842 or [email protected]


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