Service-minded Girl Scouts headed to Hawaii

The Girl Scouts get together during one of their activities. From left, are Grace Himle, Molly Peshel, Izabella Jones, Katarina Merkel, Victoria Hershberger and Hailey Westphal. Not shown is the seventh member, Stephanie Hershberger. SUBMITTED PHOTO
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Girl Scout Troop 40318 of Spring Valley is quite active in the community, but the seven girls also find their way to distant locations, including an educational trip to Hawaii set in March, for which they are raising funds through several activities, including a community breakfast Sunday, Jan. 13, at the Spring Valley Community Center.

The girls, all seniors in high school with most taking college classes, are Grace Himle, Hailey Westphal, Victoria Hershberger, Stephanie Hershberger, Katarina Merkel, Molly Peshel and Izabella Jones. The troop leaders are Becky Merkel and Becky Bicknese along with parent helper Kelly Peshel, who is also leader of another Ambassador troop.   

Merkel highlighted that she has had the opportunity to witness the Scouts’ commitment to their community and learning leadership skills throughout their careers in Girl Scouts. They have done badge-earning activities with younger Girl Scouts as well as cookie rallies with this year’s cookie rally starting in a few weeks. The girls have all done their Bronze and Silver awards, and some are working on their Gold Award, which is the highest award for a Girl Scout, equivalent to the Eagle Scout Award in Boy Scouts. 

All of these awards are around service projects, noted Merkel, as they are about progression for the Girl Scout.  The Bronze Award is done by the whole troop.  The Silver Award is done in smaller groups and the Gold Award is done individually. The requirements get more difficult and more time-consuming as the level of the award increases. 

The activities have included watching bullying videos and awareness, making coloring and activity bags that were given to Mayo Clinic and the Ronald McDonald House, holding a food drive, book drive and mitten and scarf drive, making and donating tie blankets for animals at a vet clinic and making T-shirt bags that went all the way to Guatemala.  During the 100-year anniversary for Girl Scouts in 2012, the girls participated in a service unit leaf cleanup. They also made Christmas cards and sent them to the veterans serving, and donated cookies to the local food shelf, to veterans and the nursing home.

“Every activity we have done is a learning experience, making them great leaders, helping them find out who they are and how they can help others,” said Merkel. “I think our slogan for the food drive was ‘Help us help others,’ and this is what this troop has been about all these years.”     

Most recently, the Scouts have been cooking up some eats. In November, the girls hosted a Thanksgiving-themed dinner party for their parents. They had to plan the entire meal — which included nutrition, costs and how to cook for a certain number of people. 

To earn another one of the badges, the girls will be making a couple of benches to be placed around the community. To raise money for the Hawaii trip, they also had babysitting nights, a holiday fun day, water wars at Ag Days and face painting at Christmas on Broadway. 

“Most of our service projects have been based on need in the community,” said Merkel. “The community we live in has a lot of great groups that do all kinds of projects, and that sometimes makes it hard to find something to do.  Every project we have done has been important to us.” 

One of the payoffs is travel, which the girls enjoy as Merkel said she thinks that is what has kept them in Girl Scouts. They traveled to Savannah, Georgia, where it was some of the girls’ first times seeing and stepping into the ocean and eating alligator.  They also traveled to St. Louis and did some programming at the Capitol. The girls chose this trip to Hawaii because traveling and learning is their passion, noted Merkel. 

“This will be a trip of a lifetime for them, but this will not be just a vacation for them — we will be working on an outdoor badge and others, along with experiencing a different culture,” she said. “For some, it will be the first time they have flown on a plane.”     

Since Girl Scouts is a nonprofit organization, they can’t go ask people for money, which Merkel said is good because the girls get so much more out of it this way. 

“They are working for what they want.  We do have the Girl Scout cookie sale every year, and the council gives us as much as they can, but the funds go to other important places like helping the upkeep of camps, helps with financial aid for girls to go to camp or with purchasing uniforms and funding program,” she said.  “We are glad that we have another avenue to reach our goals and are allowed to secure funds in other ways, such as collecting cans — which is ongoing and is being mostly done by Kim Miland, one of the girls’ parents.  We all work together to get things done.”   

That means getting out the pots, pans and gravy this Sunday, Jan. 13, for a breakfast and silent auction from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Spring Valley Community Center where they will be serving eggs, sausage, biscuits with gravy, pancakes and French toast, along with coffee, milk and orange juice. 

“We have done a lot of different fundraisers, and doing the breakfast and silent auction was chosen because we haven’t done it before,” said Merkel.

The silent auction during the breakfast includes items such as a wooden flag donated by Rob’s Rustic Creations, four rounds of golf for four people with use of two golf carts given by River’s Bend Golf Course in Preston, wellness and new puppy shots given by the Spring Valley Veterinary Clinic, an art basket given by Rainbow Daycare, a 10-inch cake of your choice given by Debby Westphal, a quilt made and given Kathy Merkel, and several gift cards and certificates from places like The House of Hair, Subway, Big Bob’s, Target and more.

“The girls have had to step up to the plate to make this event happen.  They have been around town collecting items for the silent auction, even though they are all busy with school, work, sports and other school activities,” said Merkel. “It has been a challenge, but they are doing a good job.  I think this event, or any event like this, teaches them these things because we are all working together for the troop and the community to reach a goal.  Working on an event like this helps them grow new communication skills, organizational skills and time management. 

“As far as the trip goes, earning badges always teaches the girls new skills, and so does traveling.  These girls will not forget the generosity of the community when it is shown to them.  The girls have already expressed that they want to thank everyone who has supported them already.  And Kelly Peshel, who is the leader of the 11th grade troop, has been a great help to the troop, especially with organizing the breakfast and silent auction.  I owe her a big ‘thank you.’” 

Following the troop’s trip to Hawaii, the girls have one last project to do before graduating as the first seniors to reach the end of scouting in Spring Valley in at least five years. 

“To have seven of them graduating as Girl Scouts, for a small town or anywhere, really, is amazing,” noted Merkel. “Keeping them engaged in things they like to do is important.” 

After the Hawaii trip, the girls plan on doing one last service project, which will be decided at the next meeting. 

“It’s a little bittersweet with this being their last year, and I will be retiring from Girl Scouts.  But I’m happy to see them go off to college,” said Merkel. “I know that these girls are going to go out into the world and make a difference, and it’s from being involved in Girl Scouts.  They are kind, generous, giving young adults.  Some may move away, some may come back here.  Wherever they end up, I know that one day, they will pay it forward.  I’m excited for their futures to see what they accomplish.” 

Merkel issued an invitation to the community to join the scouts for breakfast to help the girls take this once-in-a-lifetime journey, their last trip together. 

“I hope they can see the value in this troop and these girls.  Girl Scouts is a great organization for girls.  It provides them with opportunities to learn to be a leader.  It helps them learn about the world and about themselves.  And that creates confidence, courage and character,” said Merkel.