Volunteer Spotlight: Rebecca Black

Rebecca Black recalls her time as a Girl Scout in Cheswick, where her favorite memory was going to Camp Henry Kaufmann as a troop. Up until she graduated high school, her mom was her troop leader.

“It gave us the opportunity to spend time and experience so much together,” she said. “I wanted the same for my daughters!”

This is now Rebecca’s ninth year as a Girl Scout troop leader, and she’s also a service unit manager and service unit cookie manager. When she’s not volunteering with Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania, she works with expectant mothers and children as a home visitor. 

Rebecca’s favorite thing about being a Girl Scout volunteer is watching the girls in her troop develop new friendships, gain confidence, and learn new skills. She hopes if the girls have learned anything from her as a leader over the years, it’s kindness towards others.

Girl-led activities are a key ingredient to the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, and Rebecca’s advice is to do just that—follow the girl’s lead. When girls are involved in the decision-making process, they develop their leadership potential—a valuable skill they will carry with them throughout their lives.

Volunteers like Rebecca help Girl Scouts discover new skills and unlock their limitless potential. Most importantly, they have fun while they’re doing it. One thing she wishes everyone knew about being a Girl Scout volunteer is that volunteers have just as much fun as the girls!

Rallying around our cookie bosses

Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania has a sweet announcement coming—the name of the new Girl Scout Cookie that will be joining the 2023 lineup nationwide! Before we rally around a new cookie, we want to highlight some of our cookie bosses, their goals, and the impact the Girl Scout Cookie Program has had on their lives.

Devan of Junior Troop 36774 reached her incredible goal of selling at least one box of cookies in each of the 50 United States this year. Devan’s mother, Diane, attributes Devan’s entrepreneurial skills to Girl Scouts.

“Devan is only 10 years old and has had her own little farmstand business since the pandemic started, and everything she is able to do within that business, she learned from selling Girl Scout Cookies,” she said.

With five chickens and her own vegetable garden that she grew from seeds, Devan sells eggs and produce and uses the profits to buy supplies to care for her chickens.

“She is solely responsible for every aspect of this,” Diane said. “She works very hard in the garden and with the chickens. She also has five of the happiest chickens on Earth, because she spoils them rotten!” Her garden was even given an Honorable Mention in the 2021 Great Gardens Contest through the Shaler Garden Club.

“I just wanted to share with you how successful even a young girl can be, because of Girl Scouts,” Diane said.

There are many different approaches Girl Scouts can take when it comes to selling cookies. For Annie of Junior Troop 30621, that approach this year was cold-calling. She began calling friends and family and soon expanded her list of potential buyers, dialing her father’s friends and business colleagues. Annie sold more than 750 boxes of cookies this year, all via telephone.

Annie’s story was even featured on KDKA:

While Winter Storm Izzy brought heavy snow to Pennsylvania and other northeast states this past January, another “Winter Storm Izzy” was busy with Girl Scout Cookie orders.

Isabella—or “Winter Storm Izzy” as she called herself—of Junior Troop 16396 got creative and made a video of her top five activities to do during the winter storm, which her mom shared to Facebook:

5. Play games with your family.

4. Decorate for Valentine’s Day.

3. Go Steelers! Watch a Steelers game.

2. Once it snows, play outside.

1. Buy Girl Scout Cookies!

She shared her Digital Cookie link and thanked her customers for buying cookies from her, blowing a kiss at the end of the video.

To share the joy of Girl Scout Cookies in their communities, many girls donated cookies to local organizations and charities. Ryleigh from Multi-level Troop 27314 delivered 10 donated boxes of assorted Girl Scout Cookies to the Hermitage Police Department. Brownie Troop 57074 donated five cases of cookies to the Ronald McDonald House of Pittsburgh.

When girls set cookie goals and reach those goals, they are rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. Girls in Cadette Troop 54371 who reached their cookie goals this year were rewarded with another surprise: getting to pie a troop leader in the face. Girl Scout Emma posed with a whipped cream pie before she sent it flying.

Emma’s mother, who is also a volunteer and troop leader, said, “this was so much fun.”

We can’t wait to see what’s in store for the upcoming Girl Scout Cookie season!

Volunteer Spotlight: Emily Rankin

When thinking about her Girl Scout memories, Emily Rankin says her favorite—the one that inspires her to continue volunteering—is when she was camping with her first troop as a volunteer. “The girls were probably Brownies,” she said. “I got to the cabin a little late on the first night. All of a sudden, one of my [Girl] Scouts came running up to me and gave me a giant hug. She said ‘Miss Emily, I was worried you wouldn’t come. It isn’t camp without you!’ I almost cried. That warmed my heart so much.”

Emily has been in Girl Scouting for over 20 years and has been a volunteer for almost 10 years. She has worked at Camp Redwing for three summers—two of those as a unit counselor, and one as a unit leader—and she is also a lifetime member of Girl Scouts. When she was a Girl Scout in high school, her troop leader asked if she would help with her Daisy troop after she graduated. She started out as a troop helper and then eventually became a troop leader with her mom as her co-leader.

Before Emily became a troop leader, she didn’t realize the work and planning that went into fundraisers, trips, and meetings. Margie Freehling and Joyce McInnes, who were Emily’s troop leaders in high school, are now her co-leaders, and they’ve expanded to four different troops.

When it comes to volunteering, Emily’s favorite aspect is the relationships she’s made. “No matter if we mess up or get upset, there is always someone to talk to or lean on. I have always felt welcome. Even on the worst days, my co-leaders or [Girl] Scouts know how to cheer me up without knowing what is wrong. I can be myself at a meeting or [Girl] Scouting event.”

One thing she wishes everyone knew about being a Girl Scout volunteer is that even though you’re an adult, you get to be a kid, too. “Wear those bunny ears to a meeting, do the ropes challenge course, or sleep on the ground in a tent,” she said. “Let your hair down and show the girls what the word ‘fun’ really means!”

If her Girl Scouts have learned anything from her, Emily hopes it’s that they can do anything they set their minds to. “If you want to build that robot then do it. If you want to hike the mountain, make sure your backpack has the essentials (since we are always prepared) and do it! There is no limit to what they can do,” she said. “Nothing can stop them!”

Emily is a prime example of this lesson—she wanted to apply to become an America’s Miss Agribusiness Queen and this year she was named the 2022 Pennsylvania America’s Miss Agribusiness.

Volunteer Spotlight: Heather Balas

Watching girls grow into responsible, service-minded young women is Heather Balas’s favorite part about volunteering with Girl Scouts. “It is incredibly rewarding to watch these young girls grow and to know that you had a small part in that,” she said.

When Heather’s oldest daughter expressed interest in joining Girl Scouts, Heather signed her up and volunteered to help. She’s now been volunteering with Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania for seven years, taking on troop leader and service unit manager roles in Jamestown. She’s been a day camp volunteer, troop cookie manager, troop MagNut manager, troop treasurer, service unit cookie manager, service unit MagNut manager, service unit treasurer, and council delegate.

Heather was a Girl Scout in Greenville and said going to camp was her favorite thing to do. Now as a volunteer, she still enjoys being involved in the organization. “Girl Scouts offers wonderful opportunities and provides many levels of support to help leaders and girls,” she said.

The biggest challenge Heather has faced as a volunteer is keeping families engaged. For her, being organized and connecting with families early and often is key. She starts the year with a full schedule for families and sends out reminders as activities come up. “Keeping the girls enjoying their time in Girl Scouts helps too!”

Her advice for new volunteers is to ask for help. “So many great leaders are doing amazing work and are willing to share ideas and resources. I love getting to know the families involved in Girl Scouts!”

Volunteer Spotlight: Misty Stephens

When Girl Scout information was presented to Misty Stephens and her daughters at their local library, she knew it would not only be a wonderful opportunity for her girls, but for herself, too.

Misty has been a troop leader for five years, and this year she took on a new role as service unit troop coach for new troop leaders. Last summer, she was the camp nurse at Camp Conshatawba. She is also a member of Trefoil Alumni where she helps with event planning.

Misty enjoys watching girls as they grow and develop a sense of Girl Scout sisterhood. “I love to see how the girls learn to adapt and change with everything around them—other girls in the troop, COVID-19 guidelines, changing up the type of meetings from in-person to virtual and back,” she said. “The girls have really taken the ‘sister to every Girl Scout’ to heart. I love to see their personalities grow and their excitement of learning new things.”

One of Misty’s favorite memories as a Girl Scout volunteer is taking her girls to an event at Seven Springs where they earned their horse lover’s badge. The girls learned about the care and needs of the horses—mucking the stalls, feeding the horses, and exercising them.

The biggest challenge Misty has faced as a volunteer was keeping the girls involved and engaged during the pandemic when her troop couldn’t meet in person. She utilized virtual meetings, home assignments, coordinating porch pick-ups, and scheduling outdoor activities such as scavenger hunts. “The girls really understood that keeping their sister Girl Scouts safe was a priority,” she said

Misty was new to Girl Scouts when she first volunteered, but after taking the trainings, connecting with other local volunteers, and establishing a relationship with council staff, she felt more confident with herself and the Girl Scout Leadership Experience. Her advice to new volunteers is take the time to learn, ask questions, and most importantly, have fun with the girls. “You will learn so much not only about the girls, but about yourself, too,” she said.

Volunteer Spotlight: Jeanette Benedetto

Jeanette Benedetto has been volunteering with Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania ever since she signed her daughter up a little over three years ago. Although she didn’t plan to be a troop leader right away, it was a great way for her to make new friends after recently moving to the Pittsburgh area.

She thought she would be a committee volunteer and ease her way into larger roles. When she realized troop leaders were needed to form a new troop, she decided to go for it. As she saw other needs in her service unit, she decided to step in where she felt she could have the most impact for girls and families in her area. She wanted to be a big part of her daughter’s Girl Scout experience because she has great memories of spending time with her own mom when she was her troop leader.

Last year, Jeanette stepped into a service unit role as the communications volunteer and filled in for the vacant membership coordinator position as well. She currently continues to manage communications and logistics for her service unit.

Jeanette was a Girl Scout herself for about five years in West Virginia, where she enjoyed doing activities she may not have been able to do if it weren’t for Girl Scouts. Some of her best memories include horseback riding, crafts, learning life skills, making friends all over the region, and of course, summer camp. “I still remember the Camp White Rock song to this day, and vividly recall sleeping in a platform tent and swimming in the river! Overall, what sticks with me are all the times that I was nudged out of my comfort zone with support from my fellow Girl Scouts,” she says.

Seeing how the girls change year after year is Jeanette’s favorite aspect of volunteering. She recalls her first few troop meetings where Daisies were crawling around on the floor pretending to be animals and it seemed like chaos. “Now, the girls are in second and third grade and they have developed new friendships within Girl Scouts, they come up with their own ideas for helping their community, and they have confidence that they CAN help. They surprise me all the time, and supporting 16 girls as they grow into the people they are meant to be is really amazing,” she says.

Above all, Jeanette hopes to teach girls not to be afraid of trying new things and when they’re passionate about something, they should get involved. She hopes to encourage adults to do the same when it comes to volunteering—get involved despite the time or skills they think they possess. Many volunteers like herself also work full-time, but she says the more volunteers there are, the easier it is on everyone.

“Don’t wait for someone else to do it—just take the leap and bring some friends along for the ride with you, or do like I did and make new friends!” Her advice to new volunteers is to enlist help from other parents in the troop, play on your own strengths, and learn as you go.

Jeanette says that volunteering with Girl Scouts is more rewarding than she ever expected. “I love the girls in my troop, and I enjoy the company of my fellow volunteers. Even though I started this for my daughter, I get a lot out of it for myself.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Julie Smialowski

“My [Girl] Scouts are fantastic—they are strong, independent, compassionate young ladies. They are my favorite thing about scouting,” says volunteer Julie Smialowski.

For nine years, Julie was a Girl Scout in North East Ohio—she was even part of the first year of Daisy Girl Scouts in 1984! Her fond memories mixed with her desire for her daughter to share the Girl Scout experience are what led her to volunteer. She’s been a troop leader since 2013 and an events coordinator for her service unit since 2018.

As a volunteer, Julie has loved watching her girls grow from ages 5 to 14—and still going! She has especially enjoyed camping with them, taking trips, doing community outreach, and working on projects, especially their Bronze Award.

If the girls have learned anything from her, Julie hopes it’s that humans can impact the environment, both positively and negatively, and we need to be conscious of how we interact with wildlife and nature. Julie not only teaches Girl Scouts, she also teaches a classroom of kids. She is a social studies teacher and works for an online education company.

Julie’s advice for new volunteers is to avoid repeating activities girls don’t like just to check a box. “Read the room!” she says. For her personally, the biggest challenge she has faced as a volunteer is getting caught up in details and forgetting to ask for help. Despite challenges, Julie values the friendships she’s made and the relationships she’s built through Girl Scouts.

“My co-leader has become a dear friend outside of scouting and I’ve made meaningful connections and friendships with fellow leaders and my service unit manager,” she says. “They are a much-needed support system!”

Volunteer Spotlight: Kim Hockman

Cooking out, tie-dying shirts, camping, and enjoying the outdoors—it’s easy to see why exploring Camp Redwing with her girls is one of Kim Hockman’s favorite Girl Scout memories. “Being with the girls and learning new things with them,” she says, “is the best part about volunteering.”

Kim became a volunteer with Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania for her daughter and because a troop was needed in her area. Plus, she loved being a Girl Scout herself when she was younger. She has volunteered for four years now as a troop leader and finance manager for her service unit, along with roles such as troop cookie manager, troop MagNut manager, troop treasurer, council delegate, and day camp volunteer. Kim is a stay-at-home mom and a parent coach for her daughter who does homeschooling.

Kim says her biggest challenge as a volunteer has been getting girls to attend meetings. Knowing that the girl-led process is critically important to the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, she tried something new. “We started to change up what we were doing and getting the girls more involved by asking them what they wanted to do,” she says.

She hopes if the girls have learned anything from her as a volunteer, it’s to be respectful and have self-confidence in everything that they do.

The one thing she wishes everyone knew about being a Girl Scout volunteer is, “how much fun it is to volunteer! It is not always easy, but the joy on the girls’ faces makes it worth every minute of time spent.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Angela Deemer

Like many Girl Scout leaders, Angela Deemer decided to volunteer because she wanted to spend more time with her daughter and her friends. Plus, as a former Girl Scout herself, she was familiar with the organization. Little did she know at the time, her decision would lead her to a 20-year (and counting!) leadership journey.

Over the 20 years that she has been a Girl Scout volunteer, Angela has held a variety of positions. She has been a troop leader, service unit manager, service unit MagNut manager, troop cookie manager, troop MagNut manager, troop treasurer, and council delegate, and she has helped at a neighborhood summer camp. She is also a full-time office assistant.

When asked what she hopes girls have learned from her as a leader, Angela said, “that they are special, and they can achieve their goals by working for it.” She says her favorite Girl Scout memory is her troop’s trip to Washington, DC.

One thing she wishes everyone knew about being a Girl Scout volunteer is that you can make a difference in a girl’s life. Her advice to new volunteers is to have fun with the girls. “Don’t fret about earning badges or the paperwork—just have fun and enjoy your time with the girls,” she says.

Happy National Volunteer Month!

Check out this video message from the staff at Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania.

Looking for more ways to celebrate our volunteers?
👉 Volunteer Appreciation Resources

Volunteer Spotlight: Kelsey Marsh

“When I was a Girl Scout, I enjoyed it because of my amazing leader. I wanted to follow in her footsteps,” Kelsey Marsh says.

Kelsey fondly remembers the 11 years she spent as a Girl Scout, earning her Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards, the highest awards a girl can earn in Girl Scouts. These are awarded to Junior, Cadette, and Senior and Ambassador girls, respectively, who display leadership while engaging in projects that benefit their communities.

Along with earning her awards, Kelsey always enjoyed the camping trips—her favorite being a trip to the Smoky Mountains. Eventually, she knew she wanted to share her knowledge and teach girls the same skills she learned when she was a Girl Scout, so she decided to be a volunteer. She hopes the one thing girls have gained from her volunteer leadership is the understanding of how to be a sister to every Girl Scout.

Kelsey has held volunteer positions such as troop leader, day camp volunteer, events coordinator, service unit secretary, council delegate, and Girl Scout champion. She also works at an elementary school as a paraprofessional.

Kelsey’s advice to new volunteers is to find badges that match the girls’ interests. Her greatest challenge as a Girl Scout volunteer was going virtual during the start of the pandemic, but she found ways for her troop to earn badges virtually.

 “It’s a lot of work and time consuming, but worth it in the end,” she says.

Happy National Volunteer Month!

Check out this video message from the staff at Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania.

Looking for more ways to celebrate our volunteers?
👉 Volunteer Appreciation Resources