Area Girl Guides clubs looking to get back to pre-pandemic levels of activity are missing one ingredient: leaders.
“All of our leaders are volunteers. The volunteers come and go and ebb and flow depending on their personal needs, their family, their children’s needs, and what we’re finding right now is we are looking for leaders all the time,” said co-administrative community leader Wendy Daley.
Girl Guides Community 8 has units in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Ayr, Elmira and St. Jacobs. The organization has a stable flow of leaders – or “Guiders” as they are known –volunteering for units in the cities, but is looking for volunteers in some of the smaller centres.
“[This is] an opportunity for adults to come and lead our youth in their own community. We find it brings a wonderful community flavour to your unit when a Guider is from the community and the girls are from the community,” she said.
In recent years, St. Jacobs has had two units, a combined Spark (ages 5-6), Brownie (ages 7-8) and a Guides unit for ages 9-12. In the past year, because of participant and leader numbers it ran one combined unit for all three age groups. Currently there is a risk of not having enough volunteers to run any units in St. Jacobs.
There are number of reasons to volunteer, Daley said.
“What we would talk to [potential volunteers] about is the opportunity for them for growth, for their leadership, for them to learn new skills. It’s an opportunity to learn something and to build their capacities working with youth, because we offer training, all free, for all of our leaders – there’s ongoing professional development,” she said
Daley’s co-community leader Melanie Masson said the organization is structured in a way that allows for different levels of involvement for leaders.
“On paper, each unit needs at least two leaders. That’s decided up at the national level so let’s say it’s two leaders you can be the leader that just shows up. You don’t have to be part of the planning team – you don’t have to be a treasurer, for example. …Then when you become a leader, we can make sure that the leader team for whatever unit that is everyone is kind of doing the type of work that they’re wanting to do,” Masson said.
While there are many extracurricular activities to choose from, it is all-female and leadership focus that sets Girl Guides apart, Daley said.
“We are ensuring that the girls even as young as our Sparks in kindergarten, Grade 1 are being offered leadership opportunities,” she said.
“The other opportunity for our members is that we give them a place that’s safe and caring and supported so that they can find out who they are and where their interests lie and how they can grow. So we’re offering that opportunity within our programs. Our program has seven or eight different areas that we start to talk to our youth about ranging from science to community involvement, to outdoors to the arts to service projects.”
It also allows access to activities and interest they might not otherwise get exposed to, added Masson.
“So a number of times people get to go camping for the first time with Girl Guides because their family aren’t campers or they live in the city. But getting access to things that they otherwise wouldn’t have ever come across to potentially find new interests or even just learning some new skills,” she said.
“They feel part of the program, that they see that they matter and they know it’s happening in a safe environment,” Daley said.