Important GSWNY Update 6-19-2020

Dear GSWNY Members,

We promised to keep you updated regarding the important news we shared related to the initial May 30, 2020 Update and June 2, 2020 Update. We want to share with you first, the statement that will be shared with the public this afternoon on June 19, 2020 regarding new related information. Please see the press release below.

At Girl Scouts of Western New York, the safety and wellbeing of our girls and all children is our highest priority.

If you have questions, please call our Customer Care line at: 1-888-837-6410, or email Morgan Williams-Bryant, Chief Impact Officer at email. Please also feel free to email me as well. We ask that you direct any media inquiries to Callie Johnson, EVP of Marketing at 716-935-6023 or email.

Thank you.

Yours in Girl Scouting,
Alison Wilcox
CEO, Girl Scouts of Western New York


Press Release:

Girl Scouts of Western New York Statement on Walton Case
First time that allegations of this nature involve a GSWNY troop co-leader


DEPEW, NY (June 19, 2020) – The Girl Scouts of Western New York today issued the following information and statement, attributable to GSWNY CEO Alison Wilcox. It follows reports that the Erie County District Attorney’s office added to charges lodged May 29 by North Tonawanda police against a troop co-leader for sexually abusing two children. This will be the GSWNY’s only comment at this time.

“All of us at the Girl Scouts of Western New York want to express our concern for the two children and we want them to have the best-possible care and support. There is nothing more important to Girl Scouts than the safety and well-being of all children, and we take all such allegations very seriously. This is hugely distressing to us.”

“Since the first arrests, we learned from North Tonawanda police that the reported abuse did not take place at a Girl Scout facility, or during Girl Scout activities.”

“Nonetheless, we continue to emphasize the rules and regulations involving adult-Girl Scout interactions, safety and well-being. The male troop co-leader passed thorough background checks in 2016 and again in October 2019. Both adults were immediately removed from all GSWNY activities May 29. We are conducting a rigorous internal investigation, reviewing our regulations, and continue to cooperate with law enforcement.”
 
By way of relevant background, please know this is the first time that a GSWNY volunteer has been involved in allegations such as these.

Also, our rules state that there are always at least two approved, unrelated, adult volunteers, at least one of whom is a female, with any girl or group of girls following prescribed adult-to-girl ratios. These include co-leaders, chaperones, and troop drivers, all of whom must pass a background check every three years. The father/troop co-leader in this case passed background checks in October 2016, and again in October 2019.
 
GSWNY has about 15,000 Girl Scouts, and more than 6,000 adult volunteers across its nine counties of operation. There have been no in-person Girl Scout meetings or sanctioned activities since March 15, due to COVID-19. 

For further background view: Volunteer ResourcesVolunteer Essentials, and Safety Activity Checkpoints.

About Girl Scouts of Western New York
Girl Scouts of Western New York (GSWNY) serves nearly 15,000 girls and over 6,000 adult volunteers across the GSWNY jurisdiction, including Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties. The council’s administrative service centers are located in Batavia, Buffalo, Jamestown, Lockport, Niagara Falls, and Rochester. Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. Through the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, girls discover their personal best and prepare for a positive future, connect with others in an increasingly diverse world and take action to solve problems and improve their communities.

GSWNY Virtual Summer camp is here!

Just because we can’t come together in-person, doesn’t mean that summer is cancelled! We’re offering a variety of ways to stay connected and get outdoors. It’s camp, reimagined with The Summer We Camped At Home!

All of our offerings will be held from July 6-August 15 and will be based on the following THEMES:

  • July 6-10: Earth
  • July 13-17: Arts
  • July 20-24: Adventure
  • July 27-31: Friendships
  • August 3-7: Exploring
  • August 10-14: Action 

Summer Camp Is a Girl Scout Tradition
CAMP ACTIVITY KITS

Similar to a subscription box service, we’re offering six, week-long sessions, each with a unique theme, led by our creative camp staff, delivered to your door.

Each week we’ll be offering a unique and age-appropriate box for:

  • Daisies and Brownies
  • Juniors
  • Cadettes-14YO

We’re also offering similar programming for Program Aides and CITs

The Camp Activity Kit Experience includes:  

  • Materials for 3 themed activities and invitations for 3 live virtual sessions (M,W,F) to go through the activities with Camp Counselors and the other girls in their group.
  • Invitation to a virtual “Dining Hall” experience on Tuesday. The traditional camp Dining Hall experience is filled with songs, laughter and more. Girls will be able to pull up a chair and join in on the fun.
  • Automatic invitations to the live Virtual Campfires on Thursday nights. Of course you’ll also receive a mini song book (new songs every week) in your box!
  • Younger girls will have the opportunity to write “pen-pal” letters to our Camp Mascots (Molly the Whale, Rosie the Rabbit and Bernadette the Turtle)
  • Juniors and up will have virtual bunk chats. We know girls are missing their camp friends and we’ll be facilitating times for them to connect. 
  • Instructions for self-led activities including: 3 Outdoor activities, a weekly camp tradition and outdoor cooking recipe.
  • And no camp experience would be complete without a friendship bracelet!

Click here to learn more details and register

You’re invited to a virtual meet-up for girls ages 5-8!

At a time when so many things your girl was looking forward to with friends, family and school are cancelled, the Girl Scout experience is still here for her. Girl Scouts is not cancelled! Your girl is invited to join an upcoming Virtual Meet-up with the Girl Scouts of Western New York.

Our Meet-ups are free, four week-long interactive programs offering all girls a taste of the Girl Scout experience. Girls will meet new friends, tap into their creativity, and discover how to take the lead in her own life and the world. 

You are welcome to join as many free meetings as you’d like. Below is the meeting schedule by grade through Friday, July 3, as well as links to register!

PreK (Girls entering kindergarten in the fall) – Fridays

Daisies (Girls in kindergarten and 1st grade) – Tuesdays

Brownies (Girls in 2nd and 3rd grade) – Thursdays

We will begin our next round of meet-ups Tuesday, July 14, for all girls entering kindergarten and 1st grade in the fall and then Thursday, July 16, for all girls entering 2nd and 3rd grade in the fall. Stay tuned for registration information!

Join Girl Scouts now and receive our New Member Deal – 15 months of membership for $35! Financial aid is available.

Questions? Email Join.Us@gswny.org or call 1-888-837-6410.

Important GSWNY Update 6-2-2020

Dear GSWNY Members,

We promised to keep you updated regarding the important news we shared on Saturday, May 30, 2020 (see below) and here are the facts as we have them: As we told you initially, we followed up with the police Monday, June 1, 2020 to obtain information about the Walton case. Kara Fraser, Chief Administrative Officer spoke to a North Tonawanda police captain who said that the alleged abuse did not occur at a Girl Scouts meeting, or event. This in no way changes our strong desire to do what is best for the two girls, nor does it alter our commitment to review and, if necessary, strengthen our protections and rules. But we wanted you to know that this was the case. If you have questions, please call Morgan Williams-Bryant, Chief Impact Officer at 716-935-6034, or email. Please also feel free to email me as well. We ask that you direct any media inquiries to Callie Johnson, EVP of Marketing at 716-935-6023 or email. Thank you.

Update from 5-30-2020:

To the Families of GSWNY,

We write to you today to inform you that North Tonawanda police arrested a troop co-leader and his wife who was a troop helper and they were arraigned in Niagara County Court late Friday on charges of sexually abusing two young children, ages eight and nine, according to a media report. At this point, though we immediately contacted police officials for details, we do not know who these victims are, or if they are involved in Girl Scouts, or not.

Nonetheless, we know you join all of us at the Girl Scouts of Western New York in voicing our concern for the two children and we want them to have the best-possible care and support.

This is hugely distressing to all of us at GSWNY, as it assuredly is for you as well. You are aware of the rules and regulations we emphasize involving adult-scout interactions. The father, Marty Walton, passed our thorough background check in October 2016 and, after the normal three-year coverage period, again in October 2019. We are unaware of when police say the children’s abuse took place, nor are we aware of how the reported abuse came to police attention.

Your first priority, and ours, of course, is the safety of our girls, and we take allegations like this very seriously. Given all we’ve seen in recent years about teachers, priests and youth leaders, we strive in everything we do to make sure our girls are protected. Indeed, while it does not lessen this case’s impact, this is the first such allegation in GSWNY history. This is profoundly upsetting, as we know it is to all of you. But while we sincerely apologize on behalf of Girl Scouts that Girl Scout volunteers are allegedly involved, we also pledge to you that we will be transparent and will cooperate and collaborate with law enforcement to the fullest extent necessary.  We trust that you will do the same.

In addition, we are reviewing all our rules and procedures, which are standard for and supported by Girl Scouting nationally. After that review, we will tighten and modify those rules, as needed. If changes need to be made, we will inform you and explain those modifications. We are also in consultation with our national Girl Scouting leaders and drawing on their experience in this area.

We did not learn of these charges until yesterday evening from a media report. We immediately discharged Mr. Walton as a troop co-leader, and his wife, Shani, from her role as helper in the troop. Their daughter has been involved with Girl Scouts of Western New York since 2016.

We will continue to keep you informed as we learn more about this case, which goes against everything we teach and stand for. If you have questions, please call Morgan Williams-Bryant, Chief Impact Officer at 716-935-6034, or email. Please also feel free to email me as well. We ask that you direct any media inquiries to Callie Johnson, EVP of Marketing at 716-935-6023 or email.

We hope too that you and your family remain safe and healthy during this difficult time of COVID-19.

Yours in Girl Scouting,
Alison Wilcox
CEO, Girl Scouts of Western New York

Important GSWNY Update 6-1-2020

Dear Girl Scout Members,

Girl Scouts of Western New York is an organization that values inclusivity and diversity, and we stand firmly and strongly against racism in any form.

Our community is reeling and we are heartbroken over the unconscionable murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, among others. In times of injustice in our community we cannot remain silent. As an organization which stands up for girls’ potential, we stand firmly against forces which harm girls’ potential. We vehemently oppose racism, and we stand with our staff, volunteers, girls, and families of the black community and with all of our members of color who disproportionately experience the insidious violence of racist, demeaning, and hateful comments, taunts, and acts.

For more than 100 years, we have prepared girls to be leaders in our world, to speak up, speak out, and take action for fairness, equality, civility, and compassion for all people, and to arm them with the courage, confidence, and character they need to make our world a better place. Girl Scouts will always stand for justice, for respect, and for the inherent value and worth of each individual who makes up the beautiful and richly diverse tapestry of the United States.

Shortly before the COVID-19 shutdown, GSWNY started a staff Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee to help further the conversation and actions needed to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion at GSWNY and will soon provide members of our membership with the opportunity to be part of this committee. In addition, be on the lookout for the upcoming release of GSUSA’s Raising Awesome Girls tool kit on how to have conversations with girls about diversity, equity, and inclusion and we will continue to provide resources when available.

At Girl Scouts, we seek to instill in girls the fundamental values of respect for all, inclusivity, equity, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s belief that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We must acknowledge these murders and racist behavior because as a community it is essential to call out violent and racist behavior to promote much needed change in our culture and society.

Racism and hate have no place here.

If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Customer Care at email: customercare@gswny.org or call 1.888.837.6410.
 
Yours in Girl Scouting,
Alison Wilcox
CEO, Girl Scouts of Western New York
 

Important GSWNY Update 5-30-2020

To the Families of GSWNY,

We write to you today to inform you that North Tonawanda police arrested a troop co-leader and his wife who was a troop helper and they were arraigned in Niagara County Court late Friday on charges of sexually abusing two young children, ages eight and nine, according to a media report. At this point, though we immediately contacted police officials for details, we do not know who these victims are, or if they are involved in Girl Scouts, or not.

Nonetheless, we know you join all of us at the Girl Scouts of Western New York in voicing our concern for the two children and we want them to have the best-possible care and support.

This is hugely distressing to all of us at GSWNY, as it assuredly is for you as well. You are aware of the rules and regulations we emphasize involving adult-scout interactions. The father, Marty Walton, passed our thorough background check in October 2016 and, after the normal three-year coverage period, again in October 2019. We are unaware of when police say the children’s abuse took place, nor are we aware of how the reported abuse came to police attention.

Your first priority, and ours, of course, is the safety of our girls, and we take allegations like this very seriously. Given all we’ve seen in recent years about teachers, priests and youth leaders, we strive in everything we do to make sure our girls are protected. Indeed, while it does not lessen this case’s impact, this is the first such allegation in GSWNY history. This is profoundly upsetting, as we know it is to all of you. But while we sincerely apologize on behalf of Girl Scouts that Girl Scout volunteers are allegedly involved, we also pledge to you that we will be transparent and will cooperate and collaborate with law enforcement to the fullest extent necessary.  We trust that you will do the same.

In addition, we are reviewing all our rules and procedures, which are standard for and supported by Girl Scouting nationally. After that review, we will tighten and modify those rules, as needed. If changes need to be made, we will inform you and explain those modifications. We are also in consultation with our national Girl Scouting leaders and drawing on their experience in this area.
 
We did not learn of these charges until yesterday evening from a media report. We immediately discharged Mr. Walton as a troop co-leader, and his wife, Shani, from her role as helper in the troop. Their daughter has been involved with Girl Scouts of Western New York since 2016.

We will continue to keep you informed as we learn more about this case, which goes against everything we teach and stand for. If you have questions, please call Morgan Williams-Bryant, Chief Impact Officer at 716-935-6034, or email. Please also feel free to email me as well. We ask that you direct any media inquiries to Callie Johnson, EVP of Marketing at 716-935-6023 or email.

We hope too that you and your family remain safe and healthy during this difficult time of COVID-19.

Yours in Girl Scouting,
Alison Wilcox
CEO, Girl Scouts of Western New York
 

Press Release:

Girl Scouts of Western New York Statement on Arrests
First time that allegations of this nature involve a GSWNY troop co-leader

DEPEW, NY (May 30, 2020) – The Girl Scouts of Western New York today issued the following information and statement, attributable to GSWNY CEO Alison Wilcox. It follows media reports saying North Tonawanda police charged a troop co-leader, and his volunteer wife, with sexually abusing two children. This will be the GSWNY’s only comment at this time.

By way of relevant background, please know this is the first time that a GSWNY volunteer has been involved in allegations such as these.

Also, our rules state that there are always at least two approved, unrelated, adult volunteers, at least one of whom is a female, with any girl or group of girls following prescribed adult-to-girl ratios. These include co-leaders, chaperones, and troop drivers, all of whom must pass a background check every three years. The father/troop co-leader in this case passed background checks in October 2016, and again in October 2019.

GSWNY has about 15,000 Girl Scouts, and more than 6,000 adult volunteers across its nine counties of operation. There have been no in-person Girl Scout meetings or sanctioned activities since March 15, due to COVID-19.

“First, we at the Girl Scouts of Western New York want to voice our concern for the two children and we want them to have the best-possible care and support. Though we immediately contacted police officials for details, we do not yet know whether the victims are involved in Girl Scouts. Nonetheless, we would reinforce that there is nothing more important to Girl Scouts than the safety and well-being of all children, and we take all such allegations very seriously.”

“This is hugely distressing to all of us at GSWNY. We constantly emphasize the rules and regulations involving adult-Girl Scout interactions, safety and well-being. The troop co-leader passed thorough background checks in 2016 and again in October 2019. We are unaware of when police say the children’s abuse took place, nor are we aware yet of how the reported abuse came to police attention, or on what evidence they brought charges. Both adults in this case were immediately removed Friday from all GSWNY activities. We are conducting a rigorous internal investigation, reviewing our regulations, and will cooperate fully with law enforcement.  We ask for privacy for the victims and their families at this difficult time.”

For further background: https://www.gswny.org/en/for-volunteers/volunteer-resources.html https://www.gswny.org/content/dam/girlscouts-gswny/documents/Volunteer%20Essentials%202019-2020%20GSWNY.pdf https://www.gswny.org/content/dam/girlscouts-gswny/documents/safety_activity_checkpoints_2019_edition_7.1.2019.pdf

About Girl Scouts of Western New York

Girl Scouts of Western New York (GSWNY) serves nearly 15,000 girls and over 6,000 adult volunteers across the GSWNY jurisdiction, including Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties. The council’s administrative service centers are located in Batavia, Buffalo, Jamestown, Lockport, Niagara Falls, and Rochester. Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. Through the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, girls discover their personal best and prepare for a positive future, connect with others in an increasingly diverse world and take action to solve problems and improve their communities.

###

2020 Summer Camp Announcement

Dear Girl Scouts of WNY Family,  

We hope you and your families are safe and well.   

It may not come as a surprise, but given the current and expected impact of COVID-19 on our community, we’ve made the difficult, but necessary, decision to cancel all GSWNY overnight and day camps for the summer of 2020, effective today.  

Special message from GSWNY camp and property staff

We recognize that this decision may disappoint our families and Girl Scouts. The importance of outdoor experiences as a part of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE) cannot be overstated. However, our top priorities remain the safety and well-being of our girls, volunteers, and staff. 

After careful consideration, we have made the following decisions that will impact summer programming for our Council:  

  • All 2020 summer resident and day camp programs are cancelled. This includes programs at Camp Timbercrest, Camp Seven Hills, Camp Piperwood, and Camp Windy Meadows.  All registered campers will receive full refunds.  
  • We are also cancelling property rentals through August 31, 2020. Refunds for the cancellations will be issued within 30 days.   
  • We will offer alternative and virtual summer camp programming. Please let us know what you think our Girl Scouts would like to see offered. Please fill out this survey  by May 18th to let us know your ideas. Survey participants will be entered in a raffle to receive a gift basket of camp merchandise.  
  • We also announced last week that all other in-person Girl Scout programs are cancelled through June 30, 2020. This includes in-person troop meetings, travel, events, and programs. We will continue to monitor public-health guidance and evaluate when small in-person gatherings can resume, and if there is any possibility of accessing our camp properties for troops or families this summer. We will do our best to accommodate small groups.   
  • Our offices, shops, and camp properties remain closed until further notice. Updates regarding our physical locations are available on our website, www.gswny.org.  

GSWNY will continue to provide virtual and online programming for our Girl Scouts. Visit Girl Scouting at Home, updated weekly, to find more activities. Be on the lookout for exciting alternative camp programming based on your survey feedback.  

We want every girl to have the opportunity to experience outdoor adventure and develop a lifelong appreciation for nature and the world around her, whether that be at camp, with her troop, or with family. We thank you for your continued patience while our council worked to minimize exposure to COVID-19 and its spread, while also doing our best to provide a quality Girl Scout Leadership Experience. We look forward to sharing another summer of exploring nature, diving into new skills, and building friendships with our camp family in 2021. 

I want to add that I am proud of the innovative ways our girls, volunteers and staff have responded during this time of crisis. They provided service to our community, arranged virtual troop meetings, online experiences, adult training, and badge and program activities for our members. In these difficult times, our Girl Scouts are leading the way, and I thank you.  

To date, our Trefoil TV videos available on FacebookYouTube, and Instagram (offering activities for girls and adults) have collectively been viewed over 52,000 times! While this pandemic has offered opportunities for us to grow and develop new ways to connect with our membership, it has also forced us to consider our in-person programming.   

If you have any questions about camp, programming, or any other Girl Scout opportunities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, please reach out to our Customer Care Team at 1-888-837-6410 or customercare@gswny.org  

We are happy to continue serving our members during this time and together we are staying #GirlScoutStrong.   

Yours in Girl Scouting,  

Alison Wilcox 

Chief Executive Officer 

If you have additional questions, please click here for our Summer Camp FAQs 

GSWNY Summer Camp 2020 Cancellation- Frequently Asked Questions

We have made the difficult, but necessary, decision to suspend all Girl Scouts of Western New York (GSWNY) camps for the summer of 2020 out of an abundance of caution considering the current and expected impact of COVID-19 on our community. This is a difficult decision given the importance of outdoor experiences as part of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE), but the safety and wellbeing of our girls, volunteers, and staff is our top priority.  

Like you, we have an emotional connection to camp. It’s not just the time outdoors among friends. It’s part of who we are. It was a tough decision, but it was the right decision. At Girl Scouts, we must always lead with the health and safety of our girls, and that health and safety would unfortunately be in jeopardy if we delivered camp programming this summer. We know you have many questions, so we have compiled this frequently asked questions document to try and provide answers. If you have additional questions that are not answered in this FAQ, please contact customercare@gswny.org or 1-888-837-6410.  

Which camps are cancelled?  

Camp Piperwood Day Camp, Camp Timbercrest Resident Camp, Camp Seven Hills Resident Camp, and Camp Windy Meadows Day Camp.  

Camp is what we look forward to every summer. What were the factors that went into this decision?  

We look forward to camp too. It’s part of what makes Girl Scouts great. We looked at several factors. As mentioned, the health and safety of our campers and some 160 staff members and volunteers comes first. This is a guiding point in all decision making at our council, and we could not satisfactorily protect every campers’, volunteers’, and staffs’ health and safety in a camp setting during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

I have already paid for camp. When can I expect my refund?  

We will begin processing camp refunds on May 13; refunds will come by credit card if your CampDocs account had one stored or by check through the mail. Please allow up to 30 days for refund processing and receipt.  

If you are able, we hope you will consider donating a portion of your refund to help support sister Girl Scouts who are experiencing hardship at this time. A donation to the Council Opportunity Fund helps fund memberships, uniforms, badges, program supplies, and more to ensure every girl has the opportunity to participate fully in Girl Scouts. Please donate at www.gswny.org/donate  

Also, although summer camp may be cancelled, the Girl Scout experience she enjoys and depends on is still happening – and we are looking forward to continuing our program in new and innovative ways throughout the summer and into the fall. If you’re ready to renew for next year, you can qualify for incentives during our June Renewal campaign. Watch for more details later in May! 

I purchased a 2020 Girl Scout Membership when I registered for camp. Will this be refunded?  

Your Girl Scout Membership will not automatically be refunded.  Girl Scouts of Western New York has many ways that your daughter can still participate this summer even though summer camp has been cancelled. Check out our Girl Scouts at Home resources on our website and stay tuned for more details on upcoming summer programming options. If you feel you don’t want to continue with Girl Scouts, you may contact customercare@gswny.org or 1-888-837-6410 for a refund of your membership dues.  

My daughter earned Program Reward Cards during the 2020 cookie program that she was planning on using for 2020 summer camp, what happens with that?  

The Program Reward Card has been extended to Sept 30, 2021. It can be combined with next year’s Program Reward Card and used for programs and or summer camp.

What happens if part of my camper’s fees were paid with financial assistance?  

For camper’s registration paid via financial assistance, those dollars will simply go back into our Campership Fund.  

I already purchased a Camp Care Package. Can I get a refund?  

Yes, you will receive a full refund for your Camp Care Package.  

What if we wanted to do Troop Camping if limitations on gatherings are lifted?  

If restrictions are lifted, GSWNY will follow the guidelines and recommendations from the CDC, WHO and our state and local governments and will update you as to the type of troop camp events (troop camping, SUCO or day events) that would be allowed.    

Are GSWNY camp facilities also closed?  

Right now, we have cancelled property reservations through August 31. We’ll take it month by month and if the situation changes so that we can safely accommodate small gatherings and larger groups, we will do our best to accommodate property reservations.  

Are all council events for the summer cancelled?  

This is a fluid situation and we are doing our best to plan with many unknowns. All council events for June have been cancelled. We will closely watch recommendations by experts as we get closer to July-August events and communicate cancellation updates accordingly.  

Can my troop or Service Area visit one of our GSWNY properties as a group or to host an event this summer?  

Right now, property usage is unavailable through August 31. The council made this determination based on the best information from the CDC and county health departments. We cancelled camp sessions now because our planning time is much longer than a few weeks. It is our hope that troops and Service Units will be able to have activities this summer—especially outdoor activities at our beautiful GSWNY properties! If we need to extend the restrictions on property usage beyond August 31, we will communicate that as soon as possible and continue to process full refunds on reservation fees paid.  

Will there be camp next year?  

Camp is one of the cornerstones of Girl Scouts. We remain committed to preserving and protecting our camp properties and summer camp programs. Although we cannot predict how this virus will impact next summer’s programming, rest assured that we are planning for Summer Camp 2021. All of our Girl Scout camps will run again next summer if we can do so safely. 

Writing Letters to Seniors and Caretakers: National Girl Scout Service Project

Serving our communities is part of how Girl Scouts lead, especially in times of our country’s greatest need. During World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic, Girl Scouts collected peach pits to be ground up and used in making soldiers’ gas masks, rolled bandages for the Red Cross, educated their communities about food production, and sold U.S. Treasury Bonds. On the home front in World War II, Girl Scouts planted victory gardens; conducted scrap drives for rubber, metal, and nylon; and trained with the Red Cross on first aid. They sent President Franklin Delano Roosevelt a “check” documenting 5.4 million hours of service.

Girl Scouts have always stepped up in times of need, and our current COVID-19 crisis is no different. All across the country, Girl Scouts have leapt to the aid of others by engaging in wonderful acts of service and kindness. Now your troop can get involved too!

The idea is simple: girls write letters to people in nursing homes, senior centers, and assisted living facilities, including the dedicated staff and caregivers. This long-distance hug is a way to share your good thoughts with these vulnerable and loved community members.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Ask your girls (and their friends!) to write letters using the Tips for Writing Letters to Seniors and Caretakers below. You can share this handout with your girls before you write letters or during your virtual troop meeting.
    1. Send a long-distance hug with a heartfelt letter to seniors, their caretakers, and other people who can benefit from knowing that you’re thinking of them. See below for some recommendations on how to write and share these notes.
    2. What should I know before I write my letter?
      • Write it by hand. Giving your message a personal touch can show your reader how much you care. Plus, it’s your unique stamp! No one has your handwriting but you.
      • Make it neat. Make sure your recipient can read the wonderful words you write to them!
      • Make it personal. Let your creative side shine with bright colors, glitter pens, drawings, and other personal touches!
      • Don’t write the date. While we often want to mark the date that we write letters, it may take longer than normal for this letter to be delivered. Leaving off the date will help your reader feel special and remembered even if they receive it late.
    3. What should I write about?
      • “Thank you” or “Thinking of you”—pick one! Are you writing to a resident at a nursing home? Want to thank a caregiver? Decide what type of note you’re writing and let the message guide your writing.
      • Be kind and thoughtful. When you begin to write, think carefully about what you want to say and how you can spread kindness. Consider how you can craft a unique message that comes from your heart. How can you make the card extra special?
      • Be creative. Use your creativity, imagination, and talents to make your note fun and unique! Consider drawing a picture, decorating your note, or adding in a puzzle that you create or a game you love.
      • Start with “Dear Friend.” Even if you don’t know your reader by name, starting with “Dear Friend” will make them feel special and cared for.
      • Introduce yourself. Let your reader know who you are and why you’re writing.
      • Send positive thoughts. Share your positivity and well wishes. What do you hope for your reader right now? Is there anything you’d like to thank them for?
      • Give some personal flair. Share something that only you can. Is there something you’ve been doing that you want that person to know about? Can you share a story that will make them happy?
      • Avoid religion and personal views. Since we don’t know exactly who will receive your letter, make sure that your note is kind and broad—so that anyone who receives it will feel that it is meant for them.
      • Sign your first name. Sign your name to the letter to show your reader it’s coming from a kind and genuine person: you. While it’s important that this letter come from you, don’t share more personal information (like your last name, home address, or phone number)—if the reader knows your name and that you’re a Girl Scout, that’s more than enough.
  2. You can mail letters to one of the locations ready to receive letters from Girl Scout troops. The list is available on the National Service Project page. Or you can reach out to a local assisted living center or nursing home and find out how they would like to receive your troop’s letters.
  3. Decide how to collect and deliver your troop’s letters. You could collect the letters (using no-contact practices) and mail them or drop them off as a packet, have girls mail them individually, or even deliver them via email. Do whatever is easiest and safest for you and your troop. If you decide to have girls mail them on their own, provide the council office address as the return address.
  4. Include a letter or note to the facility staff explaining who your letters are for, along with suggested ideas for sharing your letters (for example, adding a letter to meal trays or decorating a nurse’s station). A sample letter to the facility can be found here.
  5. If your troop wrote both “thinking of you” notes for residents and “thank you” notes for staff and caregivers, make sure to organize your package so that it is easy for staff to deliver letters to the right recipients.
  6. Take a picture of your letter packet and post it to your social media networks using #GirlScoutsGiveBack (and be sure to tag us @girlscouts). You can also tag GSWNY on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!
  7. Don’t forget to visit GSUSA’s National Service Project page and log the number of letters you send to add them to the national campaign. Let’s see how many letters of love and care our Movement can send!
  8. If you wish to recognize your troop’s participation with a patch, we recommend this community service patch.
Featured image: drobotdean

Don’t Forget to Show Appreciation Year-Round!

Guest post by Christine Kirwan, GSWNY Director of Volunteer Experience

April was Volunteer Appreciation Month, but don’t let that stop you from celebrating it all year-round! April can serve as a great reminder, but many of our amazing volunteers go above and beyond on a regular basis.

At the start of the month, we helped you generate new ideas to get creative for April. After that, GSWNY Volunteer Experience Manager Lena Budd explained some of the more nuanced ways people like to be thanked. Now we want to help you keep those thankful thoughts flowing through the other 11 months.

Keep a gratitude journal!

Normally this concept is for your personal self-reflection on the ways your own life has been good, but it’s actually a fun concept to remember how someone has repeatedly done wonderful things for you. Keep small notes on who has done something nice for you. Look back on these when writing a thank you note and pull a few choice examples that made you particularly grateful.

Build some shout-out time into meetings!

If the volunteer you want to thank is comfortable with public displays of gratitude, consider setting aside time in troop or service unit meetings to allow people to share a brief message to highlight that volunteer. Worried about time? You can also collect those messages through email or social media ahead of time and then have one person read them aloud at the meeting.

Create your own awards!

At GSWNY, we have a lot of ways to officially recognize volunteers, but sometimes you want to give smaller thanks on a service unit or troop level. You can always create your own awards ceremonies or handmade trophies and certificates to give thanks.

Can we all appreciate the joy of a paper plate award ceremony? They don’t all have to be inside jokes or funny. Sincere ones are an excellent way to go, too! This can be a really fun idea for when you’re able to meet in person once again!

Make memories, then create a gift!

We live in a world of smartphones where photos are a frequent part of our lives. If you have some sweet photos of events or instances where the volunteer or their hard work was in front of the camera, consider turning those memories into a physical gift.

Scrapbooks, photo albums, framed photos, or picture collages are all touching gifts that they can incorporate into their lives. The photo will remind them of your gratitude and keep the good vibes flowing.

Have another idea? How do you show thanks outside of April? Leave a comment below!