CARLISLE – Nearly every member of Martha Haddad’s Girl Scout troop has had this experience at some point. “You tell people you’re a Girl Scout and they snicker and say, ‘I didn’t know that still existed,’” recounted Susannah Snell.
“Or they say, ‘You mean you sell cookies?’” Haddad’s daughter Marjorie added.
“Or just ‘Girl Scouts? I stopped doing that in third grade,’” said Isabella Synnestvedt.
Now seniors in high school, the members of the troop that Haddad has led for the past decade acknowledge that they’ve grown far beyond the little girls who once donned sashes, earned badges, and held cookie sales. But a shared passion for service projects has kept them united for all these years.
As grade schoolers, they helped older kids make Thanksgiving pies to donate to senior citizens in their hometown of Carlisle. They knotted blankets for donating to Project Linus and made dog toys for pets in shelters. They’ve helped with Boston’s Christmas in the City charity event. As they grew stronger and more able, they’ve done yard work for shut-ins and assembled desks for underserved children in nearby communities. When the pandemic forced them to give up their usual activities, they wrote encouraging letters to isolated seniors.
“We’ve dropped the badges and sashes,” said Ahria Desai, referring to the traditional icons of Girl Scout membership. “That reflects that fact that we don’t feel we need an incentive to do service projects. We do it because we want to make an impact. We don’t care about earning rewards.”
Haddad, who has led the troop since their third year together, remembers a specific turning point. “Initially, we did the traditional scouting activities: crafts, nature walks, outdoor skills. But after they’d earned their first set of badges, I could see that they were more interested in participating in service work together, so I decided we’d focus on that.”
As the girls have grown into teens and are now getting ready to graduate from high school, their various talents have emerged. “Susannah’s the expert on baking,” Marjorie Haddad said.
“But Marjorie’s the best with power tools,” Susannah Snell quickly added.
It’s a typical conversation for this group, where acknowledging one another’s assets and talents comes naturally. Having stayed together for so long means something special to them, especially now that they pursue different activities – sports, music, theater – and don’t all attend the same school. “It’s always really nice to come back to this group and reconnect,” said Isabella Synnestvedt. “It reminds me of who we were when we were little and how much we’ve all changed and grown apart but also together.”
“These projects connect us as a group, but they also connect us with the people we’re helping,” said Amelia Hammond.
But even as they make pies for seniors and assemble desks for children, the girls are learning life skills that transcend the projects. “Girl Scouts as an organization has always been about developing leaders and encouraging confidence,” said Haddad, who is also an administrator and teacher at Newton Country Day School of the Sacred Heart. She uses the projects as opportunities to talk to the girls about variations in leadership style and how to inspire people.
“We’ve each learned to be a leader in our own way,” said Susannah Snell. “Everybody has been able to find out who they are. We all value each other’s personalities and interests.”
“Focusing on service lets us see the impact our efforts have on people’s lives,” Catie Barry said. “We do some of the same activities we did when we were younger, like baking pies and making blankets, but we understand more now about what it means to people.”
One such lesson arose through the Thanksgiving pie delivery. In years past, the Girl Scouts would go to a local senior housing complex and bring pies to each door. But recently, a senior at the complex told them that the residents had decided they’d rather have all the pies delivered to the common room so they could share their dessert together. The Girl Scouts’ efforts had serendipitously created a communal experience for the recipients.
“We all have different interests outside of Scouts, but this is a bond that unites us,” said Ahria Desai. “And that ties back into the way we think about service. Choosing to do this has brought us all together, year after year. And I hope it will continue to do so in the years to come.”
Nancy Shohet West can be reached at email@example.com