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For more than three decades, Carol Richards has been involved in Girl Scouts, spending most of that time as a troop leader. Here, she’s standing with a statue of Juliette Gordon Lowe in Savannah, Georgia, on a tour of the birthplace of Girl Scouts. (Photo courtesy of Carol Richards )
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Growing up, Carol Richards had a brief experience with Girl Scouts of the USA, participating as a brownie in a local troop. When she had a daughter, though, she wanted her to have that experience.
“When my daughter, Jillian, was in kindergarten, the Girl Scout troops got together after school and I knew she wouldn’t be able to participate because I worked and couldn’t get her there,” says Carol, who is a retired RN. “I decided that if I volunteered to have the troop, we could have the meetings when I would be available. That was 32 years ago.”
Jillian continued scouting throughout high school with her mom continuing as troop leader. When that troop finished and Jillian went to college, Carol worked with a newer troop for those four years.
Carol’s troop, like many others, worked on different badges and patches, which now include areas such as STEAM and robotics. She noted that most meetings are led by the different interests of the girls in the troop and over the years, they have done arts and crafts, hiking, playing games, music, and more.
“Every troop is a little different and every level gets a little bit more in depth, but it’s all about leadership,” says Carol. “They just want the girls to become ambitious and goal oriented. Girl Scouts is just a great organization.”
While at college, Jillian became an active volunteer on her campus and when she returned from college, she wanted to get involved with Girl Scouts again and the pair led a troop together. The troop began with more than 20 members with five continuing to go up the ranks all the way through high school graduation with several earning their bronze and silver awards and one earning a gold award.
“The gold award is equivalent to earning the eagle rank in Boy Scouts,” says Carol. “It’s a lot of work. You really have to want to do it. You have to take leadership, have the idea, organize it, plan it, get a team and have them follow your lead. It’s difficult, but it’s worth it if it’s something you wanted to do.”
Carol has not only enjoyed seeing members of her troops succeed in earning badges and awards over the years, but building bonds with the girls as well. She notes that she and her daughter are still close, with several of the girls from their original troop that started more than three decades ago.
“I’m like their other mother,” says Carol. “There’s at least three of them from the troop that still talk to us and see us, even if it’s just on Facebook.”
Thinking back on her many years of scouting, Carol recalls several highlights. In addition to the weekly troop meetings, the troop also had many field trips, including sleeping over at the Boston Science Museum and “one of our favorite trips” to Rocking Horse Ranch in New York where they rode horses and went skiing.
Throughout her time as a troop leader, Carol’s troops camped at different places, including the former Camp Murray in East Haven, Camp Pattagansett in East Lyme, and Camp Laurel in Lebanon. In recent years, the troop went on its own, but when there were more troops in towns, there were town-wide camporees.
“All of the town troops would go for the weekend and sleep over in tents and do different activities together,” says Carol. “It brought the different ages together from daisies through seniors and the older girls would run the activities and the younger girls learn from them. They learned a lot of independence and skills. When they were younger, they start doing little things like gathering sticks for a fire and as they got older, they would start the fire, cook, and clean up.”
The camporees weren’t the only time that the Girl Scouts organization brought different ages together. At the end of each year, the troops gather for a bridging ceremony where those going to the next level cross a bridge. The bridging ceremony also highlights those girl scouts who have earned their bronze, silver, or gold awards.
“Those girls get to stand up and talk about” their projects, Carol says. “The younger girls hear about it and see what the older ones are doing and they want to do it, too.”
When Carol’s last troop finished its time with the Girl Scouts, Carol decided it was time to step down as a troop leader, but she wanted to stay involved with the organization. Carol took on the role of the service unit manager for Girl Scouts in East Haven.
As the service unit manager, Carol organizes a monthly meetings for the leaders of all of the troops in town—currently there are seven troops with more than a dozen volunteers involved in running them. She also relays any news from the council, including news about cookie sales, which Jillian heads up.
“We’ve always been close, but now we’re almost inseparable and people know they can call either of us when there’s something to do,” Carol says of volunteering alongside her daughter. “At the meetings, we talk about what each troop is doing, town-wide events we’re running, ways of keeping the troops together, trying to grow them, and how to get more troops.”
One of the challenges Carol and the group face is finding volunteers to serve as troop leaders. She encourages anyone interested in volunteering or joining a troop to visit www.gsofct.org.
While Carol has been serving the Girl Scouts in East Haven for 32 years, she no longer lives in town. She and her husband moved to Hamden after Jillian went off to college. Though she doesn’t live in East Haven anymore, she never considered volunteering anywhere else.
“I know all of the adults who are troop leaders and on the management team and I feel comfortable here,” says Carol. “It’s a small town and you feel like you know everybody.”
When she isn’t volunteering with Girl Scouts, Carol enjoys going to car shows with her husband, who has two antique cars. The couple is in a car club and even drove one car to Michigan for Chevy’s 100th anniversary several years ago. Carol enjoys meeting different people and visiting new places with the club, but Girl Scouts is always on her mind.
“At the very first car show I went to with my husband, I went up to one of the women and asked how I could help,” says Carol. “She looked at me like I had three heads because no one ever just volunteers, but I told her, ‘I’m a girl scout—that’s what we do.’”
For information on Girls Scouts, visit www.gsofct.org.
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